Sutter Health’s CTO Focuses Attention on Big Data

Sutter Health is a not-for-profit health system serving more than 100 Northern California communities with approximately 5,000 physicians and 50,0000 employees, 24 acute care hospitals, dozens of outpatient surgery and specialty centers, and other health care services, including home health and hospice, as well as medical research, education and training. Sutter Health’s mission is to enhance the health and wellbeing of people in the communities they serve through a commitment to compassion and excellence in health care services. As the chief technology officer, Wes Wright is responsible for the technical infrastructure on which Sutter Health’s applications run, as well as the backend systems. As he discusses in this interview with CIO Insight contributor Peter High, Wright’s team leads initiatives that help centralize operations, protect patient data and improve care across all of Sutter Health’s facilities.

CIO Insight: Since you joined Sutter Health, what are some of the focal areas of the IT strategy you’re building?

Wes Wright: Sutter Health has the nation’s largest instance of EPIC, a major player in electronic health records (EHR) systems. To give you an idea of scale, the EPIC database is somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 terabytes.

I am also turning my attention to other areas, chief among them security. In order to have true IT security, I believe that you need to focus on data security and that requires three things: centralization, protection and monitoring.

Sutter has roughly 65,000 PCs running in our environment. That’s 65,000 places where sensitive data could reside, meaning 65,000 potential loss points.

We’re in the beginning stages of a full-scale VDI deployment using Citrix XenDesktop, which will replace all of those PCs and allow us to centralize our data. We’re also going to add Microsoft 365 to the deployment, allowing us to deliver virtual workspaces to all of our clinicians and employees, as well as store data in Microsoft Exchange and OneDrive.

It’s going to make things not only more secure, but much more efficient. The VDI rollout will also improve access controls, which is huge.

CIO Insight: What role do you see big data playing at Sutter?

Wright: From a true big data perspective, we’ve installed SAP HANA, and we currently have a 17-node Hadoop cluster, which we’re about to expand to 45 nodes.

We know there is a potentially huge upside. Historically, EHRs have been transactional systems that keep track of what’s happened in the past. But if we filter that transactional data from an EHR through the right analytics technologies, we might be able to start predicting what will happen, rather than focusing only on what has happened.

If you can do that, you might be able to avert—or at least curb—an outbreak of disease. You might be able to predict the likelihood of a particular patient having a bad drug interaction. You might be able to more accurately assess a particular patient’s risk of infection. That carries a tremendous personal impact for the patient, as well as for healthcare in America and around the world.

One of the challenges, of course, is to access, analyze and correlate data from EPIC with other data sources in a scalable, cost-effective way. We’re exploring a few different ways to do this, one of which is pulling that data directly off the network.

Platforms like ExtraHop and Splunk, as well as other tools that have traditionally been used for IT monitoring, are actually starting to prove their value in a broader business and clinical context. We’re also interested in exploring how these once IT-centric options might help us drive broader big data initiatives.

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