Penn Medicine Launching Center for Applied Health Informatics

PHILADELPHIA—In a move that will enhance Penn Medicine’s clinical, operational, and research and clinical capabilities, the health system is launching the Center for Applied Health Informatics to better facilitate and coordinate health data projects across the health system and grow its leadership in health informatics globally.

“We hope to define the best practices for using health information and related data in our health system as well as outside of it,” said C. William Hanson III, MD, Penn Medicine’s chief medical information officer. “We now have a mechanism for maximizing the impact of the organizations across Penn Medicine that will be members of the center, with a focus on high-priority projects for the health system like developing the information architecture necessary for Penn Medicine to become a high reliability organization. That is a task that will take the skills and experience of all of us working together for it to succeed.”

Launching in the fall, the center will bring together numerous entities at Penn Medicine that are engaged in health informatics, the field that pursues the effective collection and use of health information for problem solving and decision making, motivated by a desire to improve health. While health informatics is an essential component of Penn Medicine’s research, clinical, and operational missions, many current projects are initiated by individual groups and sometimes informal coalitions. Creating an overarching center will better tie together these key projects and the groups working on them to allow for more ongoing and efficient collaboration that benefits the health system.

As such, the Center for Applied Health Informatics will seek to define and create the information structure needed to allow Penn Medicine to be more of a high reliability organization (HRO), a term that describes entities that operate in high-risk environments (like nuclear power, aviation, and, of course, health care) but are largely error-free. Penn Medicine currently generates significant amounts of data and uses informatics in many areas to keep patients and staff safe, but the creation of this center will bolster this effort. The Center for Applied Health Informatics will allow for more real-time analysis of data and open up the possibility of a variety of new, enterprise-wide measures that will be approachable – and actionable – by anyone, from informatics professionals to leadership and frontline staff.

“Collecting, using, and disseminating information among each and every person in an organization is critical in an HRO,” said Susan Harkness Regli, PhD, Penn Medicine’s human factors scientist. “Our health system is most proactive and resilient when we design, build, and evaluate our systems in an integrated manner.”

Among the groups set to collaborate within the new Center are Information Services, Clinical Effectiveness and Quality Improvement, the Center for Health Care Innovation, the Center for Evidence-Based Practice, the Institute for Biomedical Informatics, Penn Computer Science, and the EHR Transformation team as well as the office of the chief medical information officer.

“Establishing this center is another bold step forward toward making advancements in patient care and accelerating research efforts,” said Michael Restuccia, the chief information officer of Penn Medicine, who leads Information Services, which will join the center. “One exciting prospect is the center potentially being able to leverage its unique clinical informatics resources in combination with valuable genetic data for the benefit of our patients.”

By joining the various entities across Penn Medicine already generating and analyzing data, the Center for Applied Health Informatics will have the infrastructure in place to launch even more projects designed to improve practice and performance. For example, if the Center for Applied Health Informatics is called on to address an emerging health crisis – such as a future pandemic – leadership would meet to identify what parts of the informatics infrastructure need to be rapidly mobilized to address key needs. Center members would make contributions to meet identified needs in concert with one another. The CMIO team might consult with experts to determine appropriate patient screening procedures acceptable to patients and clinicians and scalable across Penn Medicine sites. Information Services might build an EHR tool to capture screening assessments easily. The Center for Healthcare Innovation might create a novel outreach strategy for Penn Medicine patients to prepare them for what to expect on their arrival for care. And the Center for Evidence-Based Practice could develop methods for assessing the effectiveness of the new screening process and use that newly generated evidence to inform refinements to the screening program.

“We think we’re stronger together,” said John D. McGreevey III, MD, an associate chief medical information officer at Penn Medicine. “There will be synergies by working together that each of our groups would not be able to achieve working alone. This is also about maximizing the ability of Penn Medicine to be nimble and ready to react to rapid changes in health care.”

Two major projects that the center will focus on in its inaugural year are telehealth expansion and the evolving needs in Penn Medicine’s COVID-19 pandemic response. Even before the Center was conceived, the pandemic drove multiple center members to collaborate in new ways to solve urgent needs, like testing thousands of patients for COVID-19 and reliably reporting their results, along with providing trusted, always-available answers to frequently asked patient questions about COVID-19 via a chatbot.

“Without the collaboration of the CMIO office, Information Services, the Center for Health Care Innovation, and our clinical teams, among others, our rapid and robust response to the pandemic would not have been possible,” said Colleen Mallozzi, RN, an associate clinical informatics officer at Penn Medicine. “Establishing this center will not only enhance our response to COVID as we move through the rest of the pandemic, but prepare us for any future crises.”

With the center in place, the ability to enhance the performance of Penn Medicine as a health system will be supercharged through the easy access to real-time, actionable data. It will also provide a natural, centralized space to create and showcase models that could be replicated beyond Penn Medicine.

“While we’ve already been using applied health informatics in many important ways, we believe that organizing ourselves in this fashion will unlock much of our potential when it comes to using this health system information,” Hanson said. “Not only are we positioning ourselves to be leaders in this field now, but we’re setting ourselves up for even more success down the road as data-focused care becomes even more of the norm.”

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