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Advancing Healthcare 4.0 in the age of the pandemic

Advancing Healthcare 4.0 in the age of the pandemic

How UPMC’s digital transformation journey prepared the health system to continue delivering world-class care in a pandemic

Leading edge technology is essential for the modern health system — a fact that was underscored at UPMC during the COVID-19 pandemic. UPMC is one of the nation’s largest integrated delivery and financing networks, and thanks to planning and investment in our information technology over many years, we were able to quickly respond to the necessary changes brought on by the pandemic.

At UPMC we have long collaborated with a variety of vendors to ensure our systems never interfered with our mission of providing world-class care. Named one of the nation’s “Digital Health Most Wired” health systems by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME) for 22 years in a row, UPMC has been a leader in the digital transformation of healthcare.

UPMC’s network was ready for new demands

While we hadn’t planned for a global pandemic, because our IT infrastructure was designed to be resilient, secure, flexible, and scalable, we were able to quickly respond to new demands of work-from-home protocols and a substantial increase in use of telemedicine, without missing a beat.

Prior to COVID-19, the health system had averaged about 5,000 remote users a day logging onto the network. That number quickly rose to as many as 76,000 per day accessing UPMC’s network remotely once the pandemic began.

At the same time, our clinicians ramped up telemedicine services so they could continue seeing patients who needed non-emergency care. At the height of the pandemic, our teams were making on average 47,500 virtual visits per week, up from about 1,000 a week before the pandemic.

Our senior vice president of enterprise technology and services, Chris Carmody, said this about our experience: “We were able to have staff and clinicians access all their applications and systems and data to continue doing their jobs — in a secure way and without interruption. We were very fortunate to have great planning and execution in building our network infrastructure.”

Digital transformation at UPMC

We started our digital transformation in 2006 by building an end-to-end IT solution that would enable the growth of our health system’s footprint, increasing data and network demands, and accelerating technological needs. We were planning for the growth of electronic health records, high-resolution imaging, genomics, telemedicine, Internet of Things, and other technologies — all of which have become common in modern healthcare.

As an integrated health system, we must ensure our network is reliable, secure, and scalable. Today, our infrastructure seamlessly supports clinical operations that include 40 hospitals, 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, and more than 90,000 employees.

Collaborating with Nokia to put this robust IT infrastructure in place has allowed us to manage rapid growth and take advantage of both public and private cloud as data demands increase, including security, which is also critical for a health care organization that is seeing more and more devices connecting to the network. And performance of the network has allowed us to roll out a vendor neutral imaging system, genomic sequencing and other advanced information technology that are all essential to delivering world-class care.

Overseeing this network transformation, Chris Carmody believes that frictionless IT is an important vision at UPMC for delivering information technology, and our network is core to that.

Transformation will continue

With 5G on the horizon, we are working with Nokia on a plan for making the transition to the next generation of wireless networking and accessing the advanced capabilities that will come with it, including true IoT.

The technology is expected to eliminate latency and promises scalability that should allow us to revolutionize data use and harness machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver greater insights at the point of care.

And, according to Chris Carmody, this is where 5G is going to be a true differentiator.


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Alex Nixon

About Alex Nixon

Alex Nixon oversees research projects and content creation on innovation in health care technology. Before joining the Center, Alex was a reporter and editor at newspapers in Michigan and Pennsylvania for more than 10 years. He has a master’s degree from Michigan State University and a bachelor’s degree from St. Lawrence University.

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