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Tech update


IT continues to expand its role in healthcare

Four technology managers and an IT guru describe the forward-looking work they, and the healthcare companies they represent, are doing

"Having up-to-date information is an incredibly powerful tool, and can make all the difference in how to treat a patient."- Mary Jo Timlin-Hoag, MEDecision

BCBS of Florida health IT VP Catherine Peper oversees e-prescribing activities, including participation in ePrescribe Florida.
BCBS of Florida health IT VP Catherine Peper oversees e-prescribing activities, including participation in ePrescribe Florida.
Quest Diagnostics CIO Dr Mary Hall Gregg: using the Internet as a delivery channel to provide access to products and services.
Quest Diagnostics CIO Dr Mary Hall Gregg: using the Internet as a delivery channel to provide access to products and services.

'Healthcare is a top priority for the presidential candidates this year, and technology is the key to providing healthcare," says Jay M. Tolchinsky, director of marketing for Beacon Partners, a health management consulting firm.

Employing technology to connect all parts of the healthcare system, from patients and doctors to hospitals, insurance companies and regional medical networks, is both the goal and the future of healthcare, Tolchinsky declares.

"If your doctor is in Boston and you're traveling in Denver and have to go to the hospital, won't it be great when the hospital can get the information they need about you even if you can't speak for yourself!"

Of course privacy will remain a critical issue. "Privacy and security are challenges that must be managed as connectivity increases," he adds.

Varying degrees
This technological future is already here in some respects, Tolchinsky says, although still a way off in others. "There are literally hundreds of vendors working on different systems with different coding; that's one challenge. Others relate to how a system will impact the people, the workflow and the operational aspect: people, process and technology."

The future of healthcare IT is to "take what's in that manila folder at the doctor's office and make it available and yet secure," he explains. "We have to get it all to work together for maximum benefit."

Mary Jo Timlin-Hoag is SVP for client ops at MEDecision
Mary Jo Timlin-Hoag.
Mary Jo Timlin-Hoag.
Mary Jo Timlin-Hoag brings nearly thirty years of healthcare experience to her job of senior VP for client operations at MEDecision (Wayne, PA), a healthcare management solutions provider for healthcare payer organizations. Timlin-Hoag is responsible for overall client ops, including implementation, development and support at MEDecision.

One of her major responsibilities is oversight and support of a collaborative healthcare management software solution developed by MEDecision and used by health plans, including many Blue Cross and Blue Shield organizations. MEDecision's technologies analyze data, automate workflow processes and electronically connect patients, providers and payers to give them a common view of a patient's medical history. "That fosters better clinical decision making," Timlin-Hoag says.

Conventional methods of data collection can leave information gaps, she explains. This system establishes daily workflows from client to provider. "It's a very secure environment with encrypted passwords," she notes.

"The technology is always being refined. It's designed to address today's and tomorrow's requirements."

Before joining MEDecision, Timlin-Hoag held leadership positions at Aetna US Healthcare, Patient Infosystems, Medscape - Medicalogic, GE Medical Systems and McKesson. She has a BS in nursing and an MS in public health from Pennsylvania State University.

She began her career as a trauma center nurse, where she learned firsthand the need for comprehensive healthcare information. "As a nurse-clinician, I found myself focused on getting the right information on a patient," Timlin-Hoag says. "Having up-to-date information is an incredibly powerful tool, and can make all the difference in how to treat the patient."

Catherine Peper is VP of health IT at BCBS of Florida
Catherine Peper.
Catherine Peper.
Members of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida (BCBSF, Jacksonville, FL) now can take advantage of e-prescribing, a new technology for filling prescriptions at their local pharmacies.

Oversight of e-prescribing activities at BCBSF is a major responsibility of Catherine Peper, VP of health IT at the company. Peper has held several positions at BCBSF, and has been in her present job for the past two years.

Electronic prescribing, she notes, improves the accuracy and amount of information available to physicians and pharmacists by bringing together data from the patient's medical history, prescription history and health insurance plan.

BCBSF spearheaded the development of ePrescribe Florida, a technological collaboration among a number of state organizations: RxHub and SureScripts, two national pharmacy information clearinghouses; Florida's pharmaceutical services provider systems, plus BCBSF and two other large Florida healthcare insurers. Pharmacies like Wal-Mart, Winn Dixie, CVS and Walgreens are part of the ePrescribe Florida collaborative, and the organization is now reaching out to all physicians in the state.

"Electronic prescribing focuses on the exchange of clinically relevant information and strengthens the ability to make informed decisions," Peper explains. "It's a technical capability that allows physicians and pharmacists to see a patient's medical claims history."

Peper notes that the system creates safeguards against prescribing errors. "It checks for similar prescriptions the patient may already have or, for example, a medical history of allergic reactions to a particular medication, and it eliminates errors of illegibility or transposition. It works to eliminate tragedies like a recent death in Florida attributed to a dosage error."

E-prescribing presents "a major connectivity challenge," Peper declares. "It's part of the next wave, which will create a secure Web-based digital record of your health history."

Privacy remains an issue, of course. "It's what the industry struggles with overall," Peper notes.

Since entering the healthcare field thirty years ago as a medical claims examiner, Peper has been fascinated by the constantly evolving nature of healthcare IT. "It's an exciting time to be in this field," she says. "It's changing every day."

Dr Mary Hall Gregg is CIO at Quest Diagnostics
Dr Mary Hall Gregg.
Dr Mary Hall Gregg.
"We're using the Internet as a delivery channel to provide access to products and services," says Mary Hall Gregg, PhD. Dr Gregg is CIO for Quest Diagnostics, a provider of diagnostic testing, information and services with more than 2,000 patient service centers serving 45 million patients each year.

"Our appointment scheduling service gives patients control over their diagnostic testing experience," she explains. "You can go to our website, enter your zip code to find the most convenient center and schedule an appointment online. You can use Google maps to get directions, and if you request it we'll send you an e-mail reminder for your appointment.

"The service has become very popular with patients," she adds.

Another product, the company's Care360 Physician Portal, lets doctors order tests and get the results back electronically. Gregg estimates that between 65 and 70 percent of test orders now come in electronically, and about 80 percent of results are sent back to doctors electronically.

Quest Diagnostics is also working on portable electronic health records with a new product, MyCare360. When the product launches this year, patients will register online and receive a USB drive with software that lets them collect and store their own medical information in one location.

Gregg has more than fifteen years of IT management experience in the healthcare industry and a doctorate in biostatistics from the Medical College of Virginia at Virginia Commonwealth University. She started her career as a biostatistician at Merck, working on drug studies. Then she moved to the Red Cross, where she worked on building and deploying a nationwide blood-banking system.

Gregg joined Quest Diagnostics in 2000 as VP of business information systems and went on to become VP of clinical information solutions at MedPlus, Quest Diagnostic's IT subsidiary. She was appointed Quest's CIO in 2006, responsible for all aspects of the company's IT.

Mary McDonald directs apps for a UnitedHealth Group partner
Mary McDonald.
Mary McDonald.
Mary McDonald joined UnitedHealth Group (Minnetonka, MN) in 1990 as a data entry clerk. Today she's director of applications development, providing data services for UHG's partner Medica Healthplan. The Medica/UHG partnership serves self-funded, multi-site employers with employees in Minnesota, giving them access to a network of health providers in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, as well as access to addition-al United Health Group services.

"Two key healthcare IT trends are centralizing our data and simplifying our technology," McDonald says. "We are consolidating platforms and streamlining processes to make interaction easier."

UnitedHealth Group offers products and services through its operating companies: UnitedHealthcare, Ovations, AmeriChoice, Uniprise, OptumHealth, Ingenix and Prescription Solutions. UnitedHealth Group serves approximately 70 million individuals nationwide, using technology to distribute data to the operating companies for analytics and portal access, McDonald says. "As a broker between two parties, we can deliver information to our partners on membership, claims and providers."

As she moved up at UnitedHealth Group, McDonald learned both the technological and business sides of the company. "I worked through both sides to the position I'm in today," she says. She's been a business systems trainer, business analyst, manager of business analysis, organizational design consultant and manager of application planning, and now she's an apps director.

Douglas V. Porter: tech specialist on the Mayo Image Studio team
Douglas V. Porter.
Douglas V. Porter.
In the not too distant future, when a doctor examines a patient to find the cause of an illness the patient will be examined virtually as well as physically, says Douglas V. Porter. Porter heads the Mayo Image Studio team at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN).

"It sounds like Star Trek, but we're making fast strides to getting there," says Porter, who writes software programs used in radiology, nuclear medicine and other forms of diagnostic imaging.

Porter grew up in a "tough neighborhood" of Philadelphia, PA. He has an undergrad degree from Brandeis University and a 1986 MS from the University of Texas in math, CS and systems design. He served in the Air Force as an R&D technician, then went to work at Mayo Clinic in 1991 as a software engineer.

At Mayo, he developed the Mayo Image Studio, an integrated picture archiving and communication system toolkit and database for medical image management. It's the basis for more than thirty current clinical applications.

"Today Mayo is data mining: gathering genetic and heredity data and physical data imaging with the ultimate goal of fast and individually tailored cures," Porter says. "Instead of just working on an organ in an isolated way, you look to see how other areas of the body are affected, including heredity and possible psychological side effects. Rather than just curing a body part, you're finding and curing root causes."

The image studio which Porter created more than a decade ago has saved Mayo Clinic thousands of hours and many thousands of dollars on diagnostic imaging software development. It also significantly reduces the time radiologists need to spend analyzing medical images.

"Software developers on clinical applications, as well as radiologists, have been able to increase their production tenfold," Porter says. "It's saved money on a tremendous scale. It was a good idea, but I had no idea how good!"

Porter has also created a system for radio-labeling and tracking white blood cells used to find sources of infection. "I made a radio-labeled blood tracker that uses a bar code created for each patient and tracks the fifty or so test tubes used in the process." The system makes it practically impossible to re-inject the wrong blood into the original patient. The American Pharmaceutical Association gave Porter a first-place award for the system.

Before joining Mayo, Porter worked for Medasys, a company that made diagnostic medical imaging computers used at Mayo. When a software problem developed, he traveled to Mayo to diagnose the problem.

"I stayed on that problem day and night for ten days. It was an intermittent problem, but I managed to reproduce it, and the designer figured out how to fix it. Mayo was so impressed by my skills that they asked me to stay on as a contractor, and eventually I took a fulltime position here. It was a perfect fit for me."

When he's not working on software programs Porter sings and plays bass and lead guitar in KnuFunk, a Rochester funk band. He's also the band's owner and music director.

He's president of the local chapter of BDPA, and mentors high school students who are interested in computer science and IT. "Our teams have come in first or second in the national competition for the past five years," he says with pride. "They've won more than $50,000 in scholarships."


Check the latest openings at these diversity-minded companies.

Company and location Business area
(Abbott Park, IL)
Pharmaceutical, medical device and nutrition products
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida
(Jacksonville, FL)
Health insurance
Boehringer Ingelheim USA Corp
(Ridgefield, CT)
Discovery, development, manufacture and marketing of human pharmaceuticals and animal healthcare products
GE Healthcare
(Chalfont St. Giles, UK;
U.S. HQ in Waukesha, WI)
Medical imaging, diagnostics and monitors;
IT solutions; biopharmaceutical technologies
Health Net Inc
(Woodland Hills, CA)
Managed healthcare
Mayo Clinic
(Rochester, MN)
Medical research and services
(Wayne, PA)
Healthcare management solutions for healthcare payer organizations
MedStar Health
(Columbia, MD)
A not-for-profit network of seven hospitals and other healthcare services
Misys Healthcare Systems
(Raleigh, NC)
Healthcare IT software and services
Partners HealthCare
(Boston, MA)
Patient care, teaching, research
Quest Diagnostics
(Madison, NJ)
Medical testing services
UnitedHealth Group
(Minnetonka, MN)
Healthcare IT
WellPoint, Inc
(Indianapolis, IN)
Health plans

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