Cleveland Clinic’s IT expansion seen as critical to operations

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As one of America’s top hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic sees more than 4 million patients annually from all 50 states and 180 countries. The not-for-profit multispecialty academic medical center also has a global footprint that requires the health information technology infrastructure to support it.

Access Anytime Anywhere is the tagline on the healthcare organization’s website. In addition to its locations in northern Ohio, Weston, Fla., and Las Vegas, the health system has a presence in Abu Dhabi and Toronto, and it has started to develop a facility in London.

“We have various operating models in different regions, but ultimately, technology plays an important role in every single one of them,” says Doug Smith, the Cleveland Clinic’s interim chief information officer. “The key is design for scale. We can’t continue to create a new blueprint every time we deploy a hospital. We have this construct where we’re able to grow and deploy this global footprint while allowing for local tweaks and preferences.”

Smith sees a new five-year agreement with IBM to expand its health IT capabilities as critical to the organization’s international operations and growth plans in the United States and abroad. Under the agreement announced this past December, the Cleveland Clinic will leverage IBM’s world-class secured cloud, social, mobile and Watson cognitive computing technologies.

“From a support perspective, we need a partner that can help as we both look at scaling out our global footprint and also help us create that path forward for our own internal technology growth,” says Smith. “Having a partner like IBM—whether it be for security, cognitive computing, human-centered design—all of those capabilities are at the core of this strong, solid strategic partnership.”

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Among other capabilities, the collaboration with IBM will enable Cleveland Clinic physicians to present information challenges to Watson such as mining big data, combined with knowledge of medical literature, and to train and focus Watson’s capabilities to support clinical care and administrative tasks.

Ultimately, the goal of the collaboration is to establish a model for the healthcare industry’s transition from fee-for-service to value-based care and population health management. In the process, the Cleveland Clinic and IBM hope to uncover potential standards that could be replicated by other providers.

“We have one of the most, if not the most, acute patient populations in the country that we take care of at our main campus here in Cleveland,” Smith notes, adding that the organization is focused on more efficiently and effectively managing care for the “sickest” of that pool of patients.

Central to this effort is the analysis of data from electronic health records, administrative claims and social determinants of health. “So many aspects of what we do, whether operational or clinical, are impacted by healthcare analytics,” says Smith. “We have an entire team that’s focused on analytics.”

To that end, plans have been approved for construction of an IBM facility at the edge of the Cleveland Clinic’s main campus to bolster its analytics capabilities. The 43,000-square-foot building, which will be completed in early 2018, will be the home to Cleveland-based healthcare data analytics vendor Explorys, which was acquired in 2015 by IBM and has been integrated into its Watson Health division.

“They will be supporting our infrastructure here,” says Janice Guhl-Hammer, senior director of corporate communications at the Cleveland Clinic.

“We have Watson Health making an investment in Cleveland, and we have locations where we’ll have IBM as an anchor tenant in an effort to develop an ecosystem around health IT, healthcare informatics and bioinformatics as well,” adds Smith, who calls the relationship with IBM “reciprocal” in nature.

Smith points to the fact that Explorys was developed by Cleveland Clinic physicians and IT experts before becoming a spinoff company in 2009. Since then, Explorys has developed one of the largest secured clinical data sets in the world, representing more than 50 million lives.

Described by IBM as a cloud-based healthcare intelligence company, Explorys is now part of the IBM Watson Health Cloud and provides HIPAA-enabled solutions for clinical integration, at-risk population management, cost of care measurement and pay for performance. Explorys’ cloud-computing platform is used by providers to identify patterns in diseases, treatments and outcomes.

One of the top priorities at Cleveland Clinic is migrating to the cloud to take advantage of increased efficiencies and cost savings, according to Smith. “We are taking a cloud first approach,” he says, noting however that the organization is still in its “infancy” when it comes to that migration.

“There are many cases where we don’t need the capacity running in our data center—and, in those cases, it would be entirely in the cloud,” concludes Smith.

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