(Data) Driven to Stop the Spread

Hands of a person typing in a laptop screen

In late February, when Kelly Kravec (BS ’11) left her office at the Ambulatory eRecord Department of UPMC Information Services Division for a long-overdue family vacation, there were no known coronavirus cases in Allegheny County. When she returned one week later, her building on the South Side of Pittsburgh had been transformed into a COVID-19 testing center.

Kravec and her team were under work-from-home orders and the entire scope of their work had shifted.

As the lead application analyst collaborating with 11 other health information professionals, Kravec designs new ways to deliver meaningful IT solutions to UPMC clinical providers.

Working with electronic medical records (EMRs), the team solves problems through system design and integration. “This allows us to reduce human error, deliver meaningful patient data to clinicians, develop and resource proper decision support tools, and provide continuity of care by integrating with outside IT systems,” says Kravec.

Among her team’s responsibilities is support for telemedicine visits.

“During the first week of March there were approximately 160 UPMC telemedicine visits,” notes Kravec. “But by the end of July, telemedicine visits were up to 20,000 per week—with as many video visits in one day as they previously conducted in a six-month time frame.”

Supporting that task alone was daunting. But another challenge arose.

Kravec’s team spent many sleepless nights developing solutions to flag UPMC patients as positive, negative or under investigation for SARS-CoV-2 virus. They were charged with deploying isolation precautions and contact tracing within all UPMC facilities and services.

Kravec explains that UPMC ambulatory facilities use one EMR system, while the hospitals and cancer centers each use their own.

“In addition to our own system, my project team integrated development with four other EMRs in the UPMC organization,” Kravec continues.

Under normal circumstances, development and implementation of such magnitude would have taken nine months or longer to design, develop and deploy.

Kravec’s team did it in eight days.

Now, if a patient sees his primary care physician for a sore throat or cough, for example, the system flags him as a person under investigation for the virus. If the same person presents at the emergency department with worsening symptoms, his EMR flag immediately alerts the health care team to test for coronavirus. By establishing protocols and leveraging technology, Kravec says all health care professionals at every UPMC location have the tools they need to keep patients and staff as safe as possible.

“It is truly amazing what a high-performing team can do if they come together for a common cause,” notes Kravec.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we started to see health information professionals almost as disease detectives,” says Valerie Watzlaf, vice chair of Education and associate professor, Department of Health Information Management (HIM). “Kelly’s work is an example of how medical data can be captured and used within a large health care system to track and potentially stop the spread of a virus.”

“HIM is certainly at the forefront of this kind of disease,” she continues. “It allows us to expand the tools that are used across EMRs and find information that is specific to COVID-19.”

“We are seeing great interest in core areas of health informatics during this pandemic,” adds HIM Department Chair and Professor Bambang Parmanto. “Those areas are digital health and data analytics. The pandemic forces us to deliver health care digitally using telehealth and mobile health, and it also turns the focus into the importance of data analytics for testing, treatment and decision making.”

Kravec agrees. “Health informatics is the number one partner to the researchers working on testing, treatment and vaccines to knock out the threat,” she says. “I think of informatics as the enabler to the health care heroes and leaders of the world. I am proud to say that my team played a small role in helping to find a path out of the crisis.”

Kravec is currently enrolled in the SHRS online Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) program, combining the Data Science and Health Care Supervision and Management tracks.

“Health Informatics offers so many possibilities for the future,” says Kravec. “I know the field beyond my narrow scope of software is rapidly growing. Things like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, pharmacogenomics and IoT device integration are health informatics areas that really interest me.”

She continues, “Having the opportunity to learn more in depth about the field of Health Informatics and emerging technologies will allow me to grow into the valuable leader I want to be and allow me to keep pace with a constantly growing and changing industry.”

Reprinted from the Fall/Winter 2020 edition of Facets.

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