UNC Health Care System: Smarter Planet Leadership Series Video

Smart is - doctors making more accurate diagnoses faster

Published on 02-Feb-2010

Validated on 16 Dec 2013

University of North Carolina (UNC)


Deployment country:
United States

Big Data & Analytics, Big Data & Analytics: New business models, Smarter Planet

Smarter Planet:
Leadership Series, Smarter Healthcare


The nexus of information technology and healthcare delivery is a familiar place for Dr. Donald Spencer. In leading the creation of UNC’s healthcare data warehouse, Spencer recognized that for an organization as complex and multifaceted as UNC, addressing governance issues early on is critical to long-term success.

How Accomplished:
UNC made a quantum leap in all aspects of its research capabilities. It can identify highly specific research cohorts10 times faster than it could before— in the process of redefining what’s possible in the realm of medical research. It’s a big reason UNC was recently awarded a $61 million research grant by the NIH. On the clinical side, UNC is now better adapted to the “pay for performance” reimbursement model increasingly demanded by payers. UNC has translated its superior ability to demonstrate the quality of its care into higher reimbursements that strengthen its operating performance.

Advance Planning With UNC creating a completely new information resource for the entire UNC system, it needed to work out how that resource should be regulated— specifi cally, how it’s used, paid for and invested in—and do so before it was designed and built. “If you have a great idea for the logical or technical design of a warehouse, and you think you’re going to establish the governance for how to use that data afterwards, you’re going to end up spending a lot more money unnecessarily.” — Dr. Don Spencer, Associate Director of Medical Informatics, UNC Health Care System

Lessons Learned:
Get senior management buy-in early The complexity of UNC’s organization elevated the importance of senior management in establishing governance strategies and resolving governance issues. As such, getting them on board early was critical. “The common mistake would be to not involve senior leadership early on in a project like this.” (Spencer)

• Ten times faster identifi cation of research cohort targets, shortening the time and cost of launching new research projects • Facilitated more than $60 million in new research funding due to superior data management capabilities • Ability to negotiate higher reimbursements from payers by demonstrating adherence to high quality care practices • Improved ability to infuse clinical research into patient treatment and medical education


IBM worked with UNC to create a robust, closely governed data warehouse solution that unifies multiple data stores, making it possible to quickly and easily access data and transform it into useful information.

Video Transcript

IBM Smarter Planet Customer Reference

UNC Health Care System
Don Spencer, Associate Director Medical Informatics UNC Health Care System
Ed Macko, CTO, Healthcare and Life Sciences Industry, IBM

Smart is…doctors making more accurate diagnoses faster

Don Spencer
The problems we have in the organization are exactly where you need to start. Looking at those problems and helping to define them allows you to develop champions that can go to leadership and present them.

Don Spencer
The University of North Carolina Health Care System is a typical complex academic medical center. We consist of University of North Carolina Hospital, the clinical activities at the University North Carolina School of Medicine.

Ed Macko
UNC wants to innovate. They see themselves as an innovator and a leader in the healthcare space.

Don Spencer
We were like a lot of other academic health care systems with a lot of information systems that didn’t talk to each other. Some of the systems were in one part of the organization, other systems were within the hospital and there was need for information out of the various types of systems, the billing system, the clinical system, and getting that information together in one location was our biggest challenge.

Don Spencer
To not be able to access the data quickly means you have a lot more increase in your personnel costs. You have to have analysts individually go through records and that takes a lot more time.

Don Spencer
The leadership really drove the decision making. They responded by looking for a solution specifically for a clinical data warehouse.

Don Spencer
Most of the lobbying for the clinical data warehouse came from our Chief Information Officer who was really attuned to what was going on, but also came from the medical leadership that was involved in quality improvement projects. We had Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs that really understood the importance of metrics and he was a champion for the decision making process.

Ed Macko
We started with our Health Integration Framework as our end-to-end view of how we go solve customers’ problems in the healthcare space and then a specific on-ramp around health analytics.

Ed Macko
Global Business Services provided the project management, governance, and the requirements and then the specific skills to actually build out the solution at UNC.

Don Spencer
We knew that IBM was going to provide more than just the technical expertise but the skill in project management, the skill in defining our data governance, those aspects of our engagement with IBM were even more critical in my view than the technical ones.

Don Spencer
Data comes in from multiple sources. For clinical information the nurses, for instance, enter the blood pressure directly into electronic health record. For business aspects, the front desk clerk may enter a CPT Code or an ICD-9 Code directly into their billing system. In the hospital, the physician through CPOE directly enters an order.

Ed Macko
The solution allows you to aggregate all this information across all these different siloed data sources and build one common platform, so that the constituents--clinical, administrative, and research can get access to the information in a new and innovative way.

Don Spencer
The system that we developed with IBM’s help is really powerful and that it helps us to analyze and inter-relate data.

Ed Macko
So they can get new insights and knowledge on that information based on that one common platform.

Don Spencer
For instance, some of our health care analytic tools that we have now allow me to see not just my individual patients but I see my whole practice, I see my whole health care system and it really changes the way that I perform my clinical work on a day-to-day basis. To me that’s really the power of the information.

Don Spencer
The business benefits for us at University of North Carolina really ranged across the span of research needs to quality improvement and patient safety needs to pay for performance and insurance needs.

Don Spencer
We can go through a project proposal now, if somebody knows what they want, in an afternoon whereas it would take a month before. And that means for us getting more project proposals out, doing research faster and ultimately contributing not just to information, but new knowledge.

Products and services used

IBM products and services that were used in this case study.

IBM Global Business Services