Technology tools help unite remote workforce, while focus on telehealth and cybersecurity create new demands.
With a large percentage of its employees now working outside of their traditional workspace, and a million patient telehealth encounters during 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges for the Information Services Division at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).
The $21 billion nonprofit health system headquartered in Pittsburgh, is the largest nongovernment employer in Pennsylvania. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, it reported positive financial results for the first nine months of 2020. It also operates UPMC Insurance Services Division, the largest medical insurer in western Pennsylvania, with 3.9 million members.
Ed McCallister is senior vice president and chief information officer of UPMC, a title he has held since 2014. He previously served for 15 years as a director and then vice president of the Insurance Services Division. At present, McCallister leads a team of more than 2,000 professionals in UPMC's Information Services Division.
As 2021 unfolds, HealthLeaders spoke with McCallister about lessons learned from 2020 and the road ahead. Following are excerpts from the interview, lightly edited for space and clarity.
HealthLeaders: What has this past year looked like from your vantage point at UPMC?
Ed McCallister: When we were instructed that folks were going to be working remote for the foreseeable future, it was a game changer. I think it changed the workforce forever. Because we [had] moved from 20 hospitals six years ago, to 40 hospitals, our footprint geographically had grown outside of the western Pennsylvania area. There was a need to have tools that could connect us with our teams that weren't necessarily right here in the Pittsburgh region. About two years prior to the pandemic, we were moving to Microsoft 365. It was extremely fortunate for us.
We were well positioned to meet the needs of sending people home. To give you an idea, we have 92,000 employees. And right now, we have enabled 78,000 to be able to work remotely. That's 85% of our workforce.
Another key stat is we have 66,000 active Teams users per month.
So it's changed big time, but I do feel fortunate that we were in a position where we were able to meet the challenge.
Ed McCallister, senior vice president and chief information officer, UPMC (Photo courtesy of UPMC)
HL: How has the mix you describe changed from one of people who didn't ever come to the facility, to one of people who may be spending some of their day at home?
McCallister: We had people that worked remote prior to the pandemic. It was a much smaller percentage. I had a meeting this morning and we discussed "hoteling" arrangements, [which involve shared workstations in the office]. I think this the future of what the workforce environment is going to be, [versus] having your cube or your office and you had a picture of the family and your dog on the desk. People are hesitant to move into different spaces, so we have the environment cleaned regularly, if a person is going to be onsite. We have to ensure that our workers feel safe when they're coming into the office.
Obviously, our frontline workers are here every day, tirelessly working toward taking care of our patients. I have technology folks, I have a lot of my PC support folks that are onsite, shoulder-to-shoulder with the docs around telemedicine. So it's a different group that is working together after the pandemic than prior to the pandemic. The same employees have been in very different roles and in very different work arrangements. Some those who were [formerly] in the office are now working remote. Some [who] potentially worked remote, like a PC support analyst, are now on site 24/7.
HL: Some people are more productive when they're at home and not being interrupted. I'm also sure that some people who spend all their day in Team meetings, Zoom or whatever, may feel less productive.
McCallister: We use some of the Microsoft tools as part of Office 365 and beyond to do the analytics around what does the workplace look like when somebody was working remote. Initially, I think people thought, "Well, that's kind of 'Big Brotherish.' But that's not what the tool is intended to do. The ability to track and improve the experience that we're not used to, which is a majority of the workforce at home, is extremely helpful. It tries to organize the time within your team.
HL: Early in the pandemic, one of the things we heard was, it's all hands on deck, and we're going to set innovation aside until the pandemic is over. Lately, I get more of a sense that people are trying to find innovations that will address some of the new challenges that we've had in the last year.
McCallister: The pandemic has accelerated innovation in a different way. A good example is telemedicine. In 2020, we did over 1 million ambulatory televisits, and we're averaging about 6,500 a day today, which is down a bit from the peak, which was in April and May. Our CMIO, Rob Bart, has been leading that effort for us and done a phenomenal job of educating doctors and bringing patients along.
HL: What about telemonitoring? Has the pandemic accelerated that as well?
McCallister: I would say not as much, only because the pandemic has created a distance between folks. Our health plan has been involved in some initiatives around home monitoring and wearable devices in being able to monitor weight and blood pressure through some of our wellness programs. With the pandemic, it becomes more challenging because there has to be access to people's homes and having the right arrangements in their home. So I think that telemedicine could absolutely be a launching point.
HL: What else keeps you up at night?
McCallister: A huge focus, and it hasn't gone away, is cybersecurity. That's obvious. The bad guys don't sleep, and guess what, the bad guys don't care about this pandemic. It's real, and we deal with it every day, and we have our cybersecurity team that, again, they don't sleep, so I can't sleep. So that's probably the thing that keeps me up most—the responsibility of securing UPMC patient and employee information.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Microsoft 365 was deployed two years prior to the pandemic.
“A huge focus … is cybersecurity. The bad guys don't sleep, and guess what, the bad guys don't care about this pandemic.”
Ed McCallister, senior vice president and chief information officer, UPMC
Scott Mace is a contributing writer for HealthLeaders.
The switch to Microsoft 365 prior to the pandemic was "extremely fortunate."
Going forward, "hoteling" arrangements, which involved shared space, signal the end of traditional cubicles.
UPMC conducts 6,500 televisits per day totaling 1 million during 2020.