Brian Wells’ job is to make big data and technology issues disappear for the researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine. He also works to make it easier for doctors and patients to share health information electronically. The associate chief information officer for health technology and academic computing at Penn Medicine took some time to speak with MedCity News about genetic sequencing, retrieving data from personal devices to track and improve outcomes, and how it is coming along with electronic medical records.
What are you working on this year?
We are working with Amazon’s cloud solution to make it easy to quickly expand capacity to run researchers’ genetic sequencing analysis jobs.
The nature of cutting-edge medical research is now very reliant on large-scale computing. When you get into genetics, like identifying biomarkers in DNA, you have to run large amounts of data through gene sequencing algorithms. To look for certain patterns, it requires parallel processing. You need to be able to store terrabytes to petabytes of data. It didn’t make sense for Penn to buy that technology when this technology costs millions and is rapidly changing. Instead we can “rent” nearly unlimited flexible and secure storage needs provided by Amazon when our local capacity is not sufficient.
What about at Penn Medicine?
We are updating our patient portal — MyPennMedicine, which has 70,000 patients signed up to use it to check lab results, renew prescriptions, make and cancel appointments, and track allergies and immunizations. Now we’re looking into leveraging that technology to retrieve data from patients’ devices. We have technology where we can take readings off pacemakers and upload that data into our electronic medical record, or EMR, so doctors can see that information over a period of time. It’s especially ideal for patients with chronic conditions. But now we’re looking at using data from other devices like those monitoring blood glucose levels or blood pressure for example. We have not connected all the dots yet, but it’s something we are going to be piloting in the next six to nine months.
You recently hosted a health system-wide innovation challenge. Impressions?
They were really good ideas and most do not require a large amount of technical effort to implement. Some of it was about turning on features in products we already have installed. One that I thought was great was extending the innovation tournament concept to our patients. I’m sure they’d come up with things we wouldn’t even think of because they have a perspective that is unique.
What are some of the innovations you are most excited about in healthcare both on a hospital-to-patient and business-to-business level?
On the business-to-business side, the ability to exchange information with other hospitals. We are about to turn on technology later this summer that would allow hospitals running the same system as we are, i.e., EPIC, to update patients’ medical records with any new information for a particular patient. It will mean that we can search for your electronic medical records at other EPIC institutions and transfer that information to the one on file with us. That information in our records — especially with transplant surgery patients and patients referred to Penn from other institutions — will be especially helpful.
Currently, a patient would have to go to their hospital and request a paper copy of their records, pick up that packet of paper from the provider and then physically get that paper to the hospital by faxing or mailing. Now the format will be so much more structured — like an interactive PDF. That’s a huge benefit for the patient.
Reserve your seat now for MedCity CONVERGE, to be held July 9-10 in Philadelphia. Discover strategies, solutions and startups in healthcare innovation. Be a part of this gathering where the entire healthcare ecosystem converges.