With continuing healthcare consolidations, mergers and acquisitions, the integration of information technology is essential to a seamless, efficient healthcare system.
That's a lesson that 16-hospital University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Health System has learned well. For its hospital information technology integration, UPMC has earned the Innovation in Healthcare Information Technology Award for the return-on- investment category. "The key to the development of an integrated healthcare delivery system is an information system that goes along with it," says Dan Drawbaugh, the system's chief information officer. "We consider (information technology) a fourth utility, like electricity, water and gas."
UPMC began system integration in 1996 when the three-hospital system merged with two facilities. The three original hospitals ran on common platforms for such software applications as patient databases, but the two newly merged facilities ran on two different platforms.
UPMC created an outreach services group in its information services division to integrate the information systems and infrastructure across the two new hospitals. Outreach services also standardized the hospitals' financial and administrative systems.
Integration helped UPMC save money and speed processes such as admissions. For example, when a patient was referred from one system hospital to another, staff previously had to interview the patient for about 30 minutes to get demographic information. But with the newly integrated information systems, admission updates can be completed in less than five minutes, because providers can access current and past medical records through an online electronic health record.
As part of the integration strategy, outreach services analyzed similar processes at the two hospitals and adopted the best practices. During the conversion to the new system, staff from one hospital often worked as on-site trainers and specialists at the other hospital.
"(The system's approach) makes community hospitals become part of an enterprise," says Jody Cervenak, director of outreach services. "It lets everyone take advantage of what each hospital has done and enhances the collaborative process so everyone becomes a part of the future."
System integration of the two hospitals cost an initial $2.25 million, but UPMC estimates it will save much more than that because it will not have to renew contracts or remediate Y2K problems independently. The system's initial investment is expected to yield a 41% rate of return, mainly based on economies of scale such as the ability to share software without having to register each usage. "Because of integration, they are spending nominal numbers for Y2K problems," Cervenak says. "The two hospitals would have needed to spend $4 million collectively to become Y2K compliant, while UPMC has only spent $8,000."
Outreach services plans to integrate five more hospitals that have since joined the system and projects additional savings of $10 million over five years.
The speed, responsiveness and teamwork of the outreach services group have made this integration project particularly successful, Cervenak says.
"We were proactive in defining our vision and strategy," she says. "We worked very closely with the operational areas of the system. When they're defining their business integration strategy, we complement that with an information technology strategy. Any organization that wants to achieve success in integration should encourage a strong relationship between IT and business processes."
Drawbaugh attributes the system's success to its creation of an integration team.
"Not too many facilities have structured a different team to address the goals of the delivery system," he says. "We differentiate outreach services from the usual tasks of the information systems division. It's definitely one of the really strategic initiatives that have led to this success."