Carnegie Mellon and UPMC improve health record efficiency

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has long been recognized as a leader in the use of information technology solutions within the center’s health care facilities. Having been named one of the 100 Most Wired hospitals and health systems in the United States by Hospitals & Health Networks magazine for 10 years in a row, it is no question that UPMC strives to remain on the frontier of medical information technology and efficiency.

Recently, UPMC has introduced a new personal health record system that will revolutionize the way we manage health information. According to, the system, which was a proof-of-concept project completed in collaboration with Google Health, Carnegie Mellon, and dbMotion (a vendor of health care solutions), will be able to aggregate data throughout different UPMC settings and ultimately let both physicians and patients electronically share medical information with each other in a more efficient and secure manner.

A personal health record (PHR) commonly refers to an individual’s electronic health record that is initiated and maintained by the individual. Ideally, a PHR would gather data from many sources at once and provide a complete and accurate medical history of the individual. These data could later be accessed online, or by other means, by physicians, medical practitioners, and people who are granted access permission by the individual. A PHR is often confused with the more general electronic health record, which is generated and maintained within an institution, such as a hospital or clinic, but serves a similar purpose in the sense that it operates as a means to automate and streamline workflow within health care systems.

The new PHR system at UPMC is credited to the work of six candidates in the Master’s in the Information Systems Management (MISM) program at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College. Under the supervision of faculty member Rema Padman, a professor of management science and health care informatics, the team designed, implemented, and tested the system, ultimately revealing a demonstration of the project in the fall of 2009. Six weeks after starting the project, the system was capable of moving data through the dbMotion platform, populating the PHR component developed by Google Health, and passing the information back to the central UPMC system. Following its initial success, UPMC has announced that it plans to deploy this new system for use by its patients by this spring.

While the general public shows favor toward PHR systems, their development has been hindered by both the difficulty to unify all the technologies used within the health care setting under one universal platform and the lack of a standard way to present information that is readable and understandable by both patients and health care practitioners. dbMotion has developed a flexible, service-oriented, architecture-based interoperability platform, which is a system that will unify certain services under an agreed standard. Using this platform, the new PHR system at UPMC attempts to overcome existing problems by accepting data from all systems even with different formats. It will then organize this data into a format that can be easily understood by both doctors and patients, or others who need to read the report.

Despite the success of this system, there is still a great amount of work to be done in terms of the standardization of medical information industry-wide before it is effectively streamlined for use.