UPMC’s McCallister: CIOs Need to Think About Data, Analytics In a Completely Different Way

Jan. 4, 2021
Ed McCallister, senior vice president and CIO at UPMC health system in Pittsburgh, took an early look at some of the results of our State of the Industry Survey, and shared his perspectives on the future of data with us

The January/February 2021 issue of Healthcare Innovation will be published within the next two weeks. Our cover story in that issue will be focusing on our Second Annual Healthcare Innovation State of the Industry Survey, which was conducted online last autumn.

Approximately 150 healthcare senior executives, including CEOs, COOs, CIOs, CMIOs, CNIOs, CTOs, CMOs, CNOs, and others, responded to our survey during October through December of last year. They answered a range of questions regarding their involvement in value-based contracting, their core IT infrastructure development, their leveraging of data analytics to support their population health management work, and their preparation to combat cybersecurity threats, among other subjects.

Late last month, Healthcare Innovation Editor-in-Chief Mark Hagland interviewed Edward McCallister, senior vice president and CIO of the 40-hospital UPMC health system, based in Pittsburgh, regarding some of the key findings in the survey. Below are excerpts from that interview.

Our survey uncovered a lot of key information about healthcare IT leaders’ preparation for the near future in healthcare. Among other things, we found out that 31 percent are currently spending 0-5 percent of revenues on IT; 34 percent are spending 5-10 percent; and 35 percent are spending more than 10 percent. Meanwhile, fully 67 percent of respondents indicated that their IT budget has increased over the past two years, while 26 percent said it’s stayed the same, and only 7.5 percent reported that it’s decreased. What are your thoughts on those survey results?

Our revenue is $24 billion annually, so we’re probably not too far off from 10 percent spent on IT, here. We’ve always been health industry-centric; we’ve made major investments in technologies that could help us move forward. For example, we were one of the first healthcare organizations to move to Office365, and the timing couldn’t have been better. And on March 13, when they sent everybody home [because of the COVID-19 pandemic], we were prepared. We had the ability on Monday morning to have everybody up remotely. We had 34,000 unique users out of our 92,000 employees who had to immediately shift to remote—people who needed immediate access. That was on day one, and the numbers have gone up since then. In fact, the total number of unique users working remotely ended up being 78,057 people, or fully 85 percent of UPMC’s 92,000 employees.

Per that, here’s another interesting stat: Teams, which is part of Microsoft Office 365—we have had 66,000 monthly actively users in Teams, up from 40,000 active users pre-COVID. And 92,000 is a big number of employees, but that includes parking lot attendants and cleaning staff, who don’t normally use technology; so 66,000 represents those who use computers. We’ve used Microsoft tools to monitor where people need help, and people have been extremely productive.

Historically, we would have spent money on the EHR [electronic health record] systems. But our senior executives have also committed to investing in our infrastructure. And we moved to a co-location model and a new data center, and that’s gone well. So the ability to make all this happen in the midst of a pandemic.

Has the pandemic changed how you do your job?

Obviously, we’ve had to shuffle the deck on priorities. For example, we’ve just developed an application to monitor when people are scheduled to receive the vaccine. One positive that’s come out of it is the relationship that we as the technology team, in concert with the clinical and administrative operations teams—we’ve just come together through the whole COVID pandemic. And we’ve installed temperature readers and scanners throughout the enterprise, because the handhelds weren’t working well. So we’ve taken over 9 million temperatures. We deployed to three hospitals initially, and now we’re across all the UPMC facilities. And that was a joint effort between our nurses, our operations people, and our IT people. So it’s working shoulder to shoulder with the brilliant operations people at UPMC.

What does the operational landscape look like for CIOs in the next 24 months? Will it require increased agility and adaptability on their part?

Yes, absolutely; you’ll have to be nimble. With all the changes, it’s an ever-evolving situation that we’re in. Six years ago, we were close to 60 percent of our operating budget in terms of people costs, and we’re down to 39 percent now. So we’ve shifted the traditional IT staffing model; we’re sitting shoulder to shoulder with the clinical and business people. And we’ve just rolled out a platform across our hospitals. Traditionally, you’d have separate care management systems, but we have a platform that extends across our payer and provider sides for care management. And we see people who are only plan members and people who are only hospital system patients, using that platform as well. Under that, it’s the analytics layer that’s so critical. And we have a vast amount of data. And the ability to use that data in smart ways is key. I see my job as organizing the data and serving it up to the clinicians as actionable data. Five or ten years ago, we thought of data as a vault. Dr. Oscar Marroquin heads up our clinical data analytics, and is doing a phenomenal job. So we work closely with Dr. Marroquin’s team on data related to COVID and to everything, so the gap between payer and provider is narrowed.

With regard to where their organizations are on their journeys around analytics development, 37.41 percent of respondents described themselves as “advanced” in their analytics development, and 38.1 percent said they were “early on” in their analytics journey. But 12.24 percent indicated that they have not used data analytics until now, and a further 12.24 percent have no plans to use data analytics on any level of scale. Per that, analytics will drive the success of patient care organizations going forward, correct?

Absolutely, absolutely. We’ve always invested heavily in analytics; and what we’ve done over the last three years is that we think about it now in a completely different way. Why manage half a person when you can manage a whole person? And the predictive analytics—we’ve talked about it for years, but I see it in action now, and using an NLP engine to predict things in advance, is so important. It’s embedding the technology team in day-to-day operations.

Clearly, you believe in AI [artificial intelligence], at UPMC?

We built the platform, we secured it, and we handed it off to the brilliant minds to use it. And they continue to evolve it; and they continue to get smarter with it on their own. It’s very exciting.

What do you see as the biggest lessons from AI and analytics development on your journey so far at UPMC?

Two things. First, defining the role of the team—embedding the technology team into the AI work; there’s not even really a handoff—everyone’s playing from the same playbook. That’s critical. And second, understanding that the more diverse types of data you can add, the more accurate the story you’ll be able to tell.

What advice would you like to share with your fellow CIOs, going into 2021?

I think we have to break the mold from traditional thinking. I’ve been at UPMC for 22 years now, and it’s been a great journey, to see the health plan and health system evolve forward. And as CIOs, we have to break the mold of traditional thinking. And we have to be very thoughtful in our investments; but more important, we have to create a unified team. We have to identify those areas where technology can take the lead, and go for it, and grab it, and advance the healthcare industry. And what we’ve done through the pandemic has really accelerated things. And when we shuffled the deck, virtual care and telehealth and the remote workforce, came to the top. And it’s been very challenging times, but we have to continue to advance where we are.

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