The Life of a Healthcare CIO: UPMC's Dan Drawbaugh

In collaboration with CHIMEBecker's Hospital Review's "Life of a Healthcare CIO" series features leading hospital and health system CIOs from across the country who are sharing their experiences, best practices and challenges.

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An interview with Dan Drawbaugh, senior vice president and CIO of Pittsburgh-based UPMC. (Interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Question: You've been CIO of UPMC since 1996. How has your job changed since you began? 

Dan Drawbaugh: There has been a transformation in healthcare, especially in healthcare IT, and innovation is now a top priority. We have gone through the digitization of paper records, and now the focus in healthcare is on finding ways to transform data into intelligence from a research, clinical and business perspective.Drawbaugh Dan big 2 457x640

So the biggest change has been IT becoming more of a strategic asset. I think IT has always been a necessary asset in healthcare, but it's becoming more strategic.

Q: In your time with UPMC, what has been your biggest accomplishment? 

DD: I think the biggest accomplishment has been the transformation of [how we deliver] healthcare by leveraging information technology and turning the data into intelligence to impact how patients are cared for.

Over the last five years, we have invested $1.5 billion in IT. This ranges from new system implementations to innovations in delivering intelligence to clinicians' fingertips to ensuring that patient or member information travels with them and is available in real time for physicians or caregivers.

We are also focused on leveraging artificial intelligence and analytics to ensuring the best possible care is provided. I think [those investments] are our biggest accomplishments.

Q: What do you see as your biggest misstep or mistake?

DD: We are a very innovative organization, but I have seen that when it comes time to capitalize on the technology, in regards to creating new companies or taking the technology and expanding on what's been developed internally, we have been too conservative at times, from a standpoint of intellectual property ownership and licensing arrangements versus developing and commercializing something ourselves here at UPMC.

We have been very assertive in implementing or pursuing new technology, but when it comes time to capitalize we have sometimes taken the more conservative approach.

Q: In the past month or so, what project has taken up the majority of your time?

DD: We are a healthcare integrated delivery system, but we are also working to become an IT company to support our core research and patient care mission. By that, I mean we are looking for strategic opportunities, including partnerships in the technology arena, and introducing these prospective partners to our technology development efforts. That is where a lot of my focus has been.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you're facing right now? 

DD: I think one of the biggest challenges is the significant growth in data. We are doubling the data we have every 18 months just on the [electronic health] record side. The next wave with genetic sequencing will see an exponential jump in data growth as the cost of genetic sequencing comes down and becomes more of a standard in the industry.

Second, digitization brings challenges for every business, but for healthcare, data security and privacy are critical. We see continued opportunities for improvement there.

The third challenge is directly related to what I just said about becoming an IT company. With the changes in healthcare, the [Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act] and other changing market dynamics, the margins in healthcare continue to shrink. And at the same time we are seeing this shrinking margin, we're trying to make substantial investments in IT. Finding the balance between those two provides us with a challenge, but if handled correctly, an opportunity.

Q: What is one lesson you've learned during your career that you'd like to share with other CIOs?

DD: With the rapid advancements in IT, CIOs must embrace change and address the challenges and opportunities that change brings. Being assertive in pursuing and taking on challenges associated with new technology is one of the biggest lessons I have learned.

Also, I believe it is critical for IT leaders to be at the table developing strategy with the CEO and peers within the organization. Position yourself as an agent of change, as an individual who is assertive in implementing new technology as a strategic imperative.

More Articles in the "Life of a Healthcare CIO" Series:

The Life of a Healthcare CIO: Penn State Hershey's Rod Dykehouse
The Life of a Healthcare CIO: Mercy's Gil Hoffman
The Life of a Healthcare CIO: Fletcher Allen's Chuck Podesta

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