CIO Spotlight: Data analytics a big focus for University of Maryland Medical System [Interview]

New health technology projects are always underway at the University of Maryland Medical System, but one that is stealing Chief Information Officer Jon Burns' attention is building a data analytics structure.

"We have lots of information, lots of data that we store," Burns (pictured) told FierceHealthIT in an interview. "What we want to be able to do is develop an infrastructure that mines that data in ways that help us understand our business better, understand our profitability better and make sure that we are ... developing things that will help the organization continue to thrive."

Some of the analytic projects currently underway at the 12-hospital network include development of a predictive model on sepsis and an initiative to prevent readmissions using patient data.

The health system wants to take blended information from multiple sources and use that information in real-time to make it actionable and make better decisions around clinical care, as well as from a performance standpoint at the organization, Burns added.

In addition to UMMS' work in analytics, Burns also spoke to FierceHealthIT about data security, the challenge of creating alignment on specific objectives and how he juggles his many tasks as CIO.

FierceHealthIT: Talk a little bit about your work at UMMS--what big projects are you working on?

John Burns: I am responsible for IT for the entire system--all of our hospitals, our physician practices, etc. I am also responsible for supply chain operations and supply chain services. In terms of big projects, we have a couple of fairly large projects that are currently active across our organization. The largest is our continued rollout of our electronic medical record strategy. We actually call this our clinical and business transformation project.

We are rolling that out across our enterprise. We have three implementations happening in 2016 at hospitals including our academic hospital. In addition, we have a whole set of activities around building out our analytics structure to enhance both clinical informatics as well as create a broader data-drive culture within our organization.

FHIT: In what ways are you keeping health data secure at your organization?

Burns: We have an ongoing focus around enhancing and protecting the organization from an information security perspective. We conduct annual assessments of our security infrastructure, and those assessments help us create a roadmap to see where we need to harden our security infrastructure. In addition because of our growth over the last number of years, we're making sure that we have common policies, practices and education of our employee base across the entire organization.

FHIT: Talk about your management style. How do you run things?

Burns: My management style is one that is collaborative and participative. I have an expectation that our directors and vice presidents are accountable for their roles, are accountable for their teams and accountable for their budget. It is all about accountability. I also have a one-hour session once a month with non-management employees--about 12 to 15 people--within IT where we talk about what's on their minds and we talk about things that they believe are opportunities for us to improve.

FHIT: How do you tackle big initiatives (such as Meaningful Use and ICD-10) vs. day-to-day tasks?

Burns: Everything about management is situation-based, so whether it's about size or whether it's critical, I think the style has to be situation to the need of the organization. I am more heavily engaged in large-scale projects that have major risks associated with them; risks in terms of time, dollars and scale. I am heavily involved in day-to-day activities for the EMR project and the analytics project.

FHIT: What part of your job do you find most interesting?

Burns: What I like the best about the job is blending technology with the clinical and business operations of the organization and working with the clinical leaders, as well as the business leaders of the organization to a common objective. I am less enamored about the specific technology or the specific widget, and more enamored by the result of what we do with that widget or technology.

FHIT: What part of your work is the most challenging?

Burns: The time it takes to create alignment on specific objectives. We are a good sized integrated delivery system and sometimes it takes a fair amount of time and effort to create alignment on a single objective; it's sort of a culture of our organization and working through the culture of our organization, which is not a single culture but a blended culture of many different organizations. It's not good or bad, it just sometimes takes time.

FHIT: How do you foresee health IT changing in the next year, and how will that impact how you do your job?

Burns: Health IT is evolving and I think it's going to continue to evolve at a pretty fast pace. Security is going to continue to be an area where we have to constantly be focused and diligent in our efforts. And mobility and the use of mobility services for employees, physicians and patients is going to be a big change and will continue to be a challenge for us to manage. IT is also going to move from the traditional way it's been managed to being more of a collaboration with the whole organization.

Editor's Note: This interview has been condensed for clarity and content.