There’s a lot of talk about innovation in healthcare IT, but when Ed McCallister says it’s in the DNA of his organization, it’s not just talk. In addition to more than 20 hospitals, 500 outpatient sites and a health plan, UPMC comprises an innovation arm that has launched several products and companies, including an ACO initiative. It’s no wonder McCallister says innovation is a verb — not a noun. In this interview, he talks about the growing trend in consumerism and how his team is leveraging data to transform the patient experience; the partnership that he believes will transform the way care is delivered; and what it really means to be an integrated delivery system. He also shares his thoughts on where the industry is headed, and what he learned from being on the payer side.
- UPMC Enterprises — “Incubator of ideas”
- “The DNA of UPMC is innovation”
- Thinking 3 or 4 moves ahead
- Redefining CIO — “My role is to enable great minds to create the future through technology.”
- Taking vendor relationships from contractual to strategic
- The integrated delivery system model
- Population health — “What’s driving it all is analytics”
LISTEN NOW USING THE PLAYER BELOW OR CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR iTUNES PODCAST FEED
It’s a different timeline than what we’re used to within in the technology areas, and it’s able to accelerate some of the great ideas and get a product out to market and solve problems faster than traditionally people could as trying to do it as a part-time effort.
We’ve always been at the forefront of hey, we’re very good at this, but this is changing. How do we get to the next this?
You’re not necessarily looking for innovation; what you’re doing is you’re creating an experience in a way that hasn’t been done, and what that equates to is being very innovative in how we think.
There are some great vendor partners out there, but we have to approach it in a very strategic way, less ‘how much more money you’re going to spend over the next 3 years on our product’ and more ‘where are we going to take this thing called healthcare as an industry together.’
When you talk population health, there are the tools — it ties back to the whole idea around guidance, motivation, and convenience for the particular person — but what’s driving it all is the analytics.
Gamble: So I really want to get to talk more about innovation which UPMC is so unique with things like the technology development center, which to my understanding is a separate operation, but the IT staff can participate. Can you talk a little bit about how that works?
McCallister: That’s probably a good segue. TDC, the Technology Development Center, was actually a very successful incubator of great ideas and creation of products, and it actually set the groundwork and set the stage for what we’re calling UPMC Enterprises now. TDC, as you may have known it in the past, has been consolidated into the UPMC Enterprises vision, where we get good ideas and vet them and develop the ones that come through the process and then grow a business out of that particular product. I would view TDC as providing the great foundation for what the UPMC Enterprises’ vision is moving us into the future.
I have a great advantage of keeping the train on the tracks as far as the business. UPMC is in the business of world-class patient care; that’s what we do, and technology plays a big role in that piece. So I have the opportunity to not only keep the train on the track and keep the things moving that have made UPMC the organization that we are, but also have an innovation partner in the UPMC Enterprises group that will grow the future of what we are.
I somewhat jokingly refer to what I do on the core business side as kind of an opportunity incubator, because I know where the opportunities are, and we partner with our Enterprise team to create the future of what healthcare could be. We know where the areas of improvement could happen, and we can accelerate the solutions in a way that you couldn’t if you tried to do it from within the core business.
Gamble: I would think that in many ways that’s a dream scenario for a CIO to have that access to something like that.
McCallister: It absolutely is. And it’s a separate entity, on paper perhaps, but functionally, we work as one. I spend as much time at Bakery Square as I do here at USX. So it’s a very fluid arrangement, the difference being that the focus on moving us into this digital world. It’s a different timeline than what we’re used to within in the technology areas, and it’s able to accelerate some of the great ideas and get a product out to market and solve problems faster than traditionally people could as trying to do it as a part-time effort.
Gamble: I’d imagine that at any given time, there are ideas that are in different phases, just being worked out.
McCallister: Absolutely. Actually, what it does is it creates that added ability for UPMC. Because of the dynamic nature of who we are as a company, if it solves a problem here, more than likely it solves a problem outside of UPMC, so the commercial opportunity is also a very good one.
Gamble: Has that happened with some of the initiatives or products that have come out in the past?
McCallister: Yes, absolutely. The DNA of UPMC is innovation. So if you go back through the years, even the beginning of the health plan and the creation of a health plan — if you step back beyond 1998 was when the health plan was born, and if you go back beyond that need and you see the creation of UPMC, whether it was through acquisitions or mergers of whatever — I think UPMC and the UPMC leadership through [Jeffrey] Romoff has been that you think three or four moves ahead. I think we’ve always been positioned for the future, so I don’t think it’s a new thing when we talk about UPMC Enterprises. I think if you go back through the past 30 years in UPMC’s history, we’ve always been at the forefront of hey, we’re very good at this, but this is changing. How do we get to the next this? UPMC has always done a good job and had great leadership in seeing the future, positioning ourselves for the future, and then actually defining what that future is.
Gamble: That’s very cool. It must be a very cool thing to be a part of.
McCallister: It’s a great place to be. I’ll try not to become a commercial for UPMC, but it’s hard not to. It really is such a unique and an innovative place. Where else can you combine the great clinical minds that are here with our physician community and the ability to be so diverse across what we do? It’s just a very unique place. And when you talk about what the technology role is, my role in that equation is to enable all these great minds through technology to create the future through technology. So it is a unique position and a very enviable one.
Gamble: One thing I think that’s interesting is that we’ve heard some CIOs before talk about what it takes to foster innovation and not have it feel like it’s something that is forced, because as you know, you can’t force these great ideas. What are your thoughts on that of what it takes to create that environment where you are fostering innovation?
McCallister: People talk about innovation as a noun; it’s not the right way. It’s really a verb. It’s action. It’s what’s happening around you more so than a thing. In terms of how I see my role as CIO, traditionally I guess CIO is chief information officer, but I get to play the role of a chief integration officer and chief innovation officer. There’s a lot of different areas and we’re very nimble in what we do. I mentioned UPMC Enterprises as one example where you’re not necessarily looking for innovation; what you’re doing is you’re creating an experience in a way that hasn’t been done, and what that equates to is being very innovative in how we think. I think if you work too hard to create innovation, it shouldn’t be your goal. With how you think about the business, how you think about what you’re trying to accomplish, what problem you’re trying to solve — I think innovation happens many times.
Gamble: Yeah. It also seems like you have a pretty large amount of partnerships with vendors, so that tells me that with so many of these ideas you’re really on to something. Because vendors realize we can’t wait as long as we’ve waited in the past for ideas to come to fruition, and that things do have to be a little bit more accelerated now.
McCallister: Accelerated is kind of an understatement. You kind of jettison from what you think you’re at the cusp of what the future is, and you blink, and it’s just moving at the speed of light. Partnering with the vendor becomes very important because it can’t be a contractual vendor relationship. It has to be more strategic. I think that when we work with the many vendors that we do — which we have many great vendor relationships — the conversation has shifted over the years from product to strategy and how do we get to where we are. You mentioned a minute ago the speed at which things are moving; a product becomes very outdated if you focus solely on the product. So you work with these vendors in a more strategic way and define what that future is together, because they have many competencies that you want to utilize. I don’t sit here as CIO and say we can invent everything. I know there are some great vendor partners out there, but we have to approach it in a very strategic way, less ‘how much more money you’re going to spend over the next 3 years on our product’ and more ‘where are we going to take this thing called healthcare as an industry together.’
Gamble: That’s really interesting because you’re certainly not talking about the traditional relationship of ‘we’re the vendor. We have this product. How can you fit this into your organization?’ It’s certainly flipped things on their axis a little bit.
McCallister: Absolutely. I think traditionally that’s been the case. ‘We have a widget that can fit into your environment. Let me sell it to you,’ rather than do an evaluation of what that particular thing is — how it’s going to not only serve the needs of today, but the needs of tomorrow, and not only how is it going to serve the needs of me as an integrated delivery system, but how is it going to fit the needs of my customer, the consumer, and not only what do they need today, but what do they need tomorrow as well.
Gamble: Right. Another area I wanted to talk about is population health. It’s a buzzword. It’s something that’s talked about a lot, but there’s a reason for that, because it’s becoming so necessary for health systems to be more active in this space. Can you just talk a little bit about your strategy there, especially with your unique angle of having the insurance plan as well?
McCallister: Population health is what we’ve been talking about. It’s really the consumer. It’s what it all comes down to. It’s the combination of cost/quality and what’s happening for that particular consumer. What we’ve done in the area of population health is all driven through the analytics engine. Again, we have data, so how do you manage the population? It becomes less of a population health, and more of a person-centered objective that we have.
The reason I say population health has happened within the payer world is you have your insurance companies and your payers, and they do population health on a certain population, and then they move over to the clinical side and they become a patient and there’s a certain level of population health. So I think that what we have the ability to do as UPMC — and why you see others trying to replicate the model, that the IDFS (integrated delivery system model) — is that in order to do population health in a very meaningful way, you almost want to be an integrated delivery system, because you have all of the pieces to the puzzle. You’re not just creating population health out of a single lens, but rather a more dynamic vision and a more complete vision of what that population is.
It ties back to our investment in analytics. A few years back, we embarked on a $100 million big data analytics initiative that you may be familiar with, and it’s been very successful to this point. It’s been very foundational and now actually at the point where we’re raising it above ground. This new alliance that we mentioned earlier, the Pittsburgh Health Data alliance, is actually going to dovetail nicely into the work that has been done within UPMC to create the abilities to do big data analytics. So I think when you talk population health, there are the tools — it ties back to the whole idea around guidance, motivation, and convenience for the particular person — but what’s driving it all is the analytics.
Gamble: Right. It’s that idea of moving beyond. You talked about the fragmented state of healthcare IT and just how it’s been for so long, and the need to move out of that model, which is certainly easier said than done.
McCallister: Absolutely. There are tons of Legacy systems in the healthcare environment. My early days as CIO of the insurance division, I jokingly say it was the easiest job in the world because we had no technology. Building from ground level is a much easier task than using the great Legacy systems — what we’ve built over the course of time and invested in. How do we leverage those investments, but make it a more seamless experience? It’s rising above the Legacy systems, which are becoming more and more a commodity, and it’s that data layer that sits on top of the Legacy systems and allows us to do such things as population health and more person-centered analytics.