How Penn Medicine is overcoming interoperability challenges, chief data information officer explains

Jim Beinlich is the associate vice president and chief data information officer of corporate information services at Philadelphia-based Penn Medicine. 

In his role, Mr. Beinlich is focused on using data analytics and helping Penn Medicine become more data informed. Additionally, he supports research in biometrics and genomics. 

Below, Mr. Beinlich details how finance plays into health IT as well as what characteristic is needed for a successful IT team. 

Editor’s note: Responses are lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Question: If you could solve one health IT challenge/headache overnight, what would it be and why? 

Jim Beinlich: A lot of my responsibility, is helping to make Penn Medicine more data driven. This is not a novel idea, as companies and industry are seeking to become data informed. With healthcare, it is clear how much potential there is due to the vast amounts of data available. However, it is not always that easy to make this data accessible and usable. This is due to a few factors. First, EHRs commonly define and denote aspects of data differently, limiting common terminology. Second, security and privacy concerns are huge and also hinder data sharing. From a healthcare perspective, we are probably leaving a lot on the table with the large amount of data available and the challenges with making it usable. 

A good example of overcoming some of the local difficulties of data sharing, Penn Medicine is working with Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to share patient data for patient care and research purposes. Since CHOP is physically located next to our largest hospital, we have patients that are receiving care throughout their pediatric life at CHOP and then transition to adult care at Penn when they become adults. We also have newborns that are born at Penn hospitals and transition to CHOP for care. We work hard to better share data with CHOP because ultimately the patient gets better care across the lifespan. 

Q: How does finance play a role in IT efforts at your hospital or health system? Do you and the finance team interact closely?  

JB: Penn Medicine has a firm policy around all IT costs that are going to be housed in the corporate information system budget. Some organizations might say that enterprise-type IT investments are to be included in the corporate budget, but anything that's local to be in a different budget. We have a different philosophy that is driven by finance which really wants to account for all IT costs in a central budget. 

We actually have a small finance team within the IS department. These employees help manage the large budget and work closely with our corporate finance team. We also leverage our IT governance committees who have an influence on IT investments through the budget process. 

Q: What is the key character trait for a successful IT team? 

JB: It’s all about hiring people with the right attitude, aptitude and energy. If you hire on those things, you can teach technology. 

We have found that senior leadership can set the tone for culture, but it also relies on front line managers to set the messaging and path forward. Over the past few years, Penn Medicine has focused on leadership and management training much more than any other organization I’ve ever worked for and we believe it’s paying dividends now and into the future.  

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