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UPMC, Pitt, Carnegie Mellon forge alliance to share patient health data

| Monday, March 16, 2015, 8:12 a.m.
UPMC CEO Jeffrey Romoff speaks during a news conference Monday, March 16, 2015, at UPMC Shadyside announcing the launch of the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance with Subra Suresh, president of CMU, and Patrick Gallagher, chancellor of Pitt.
James Knox | Trib Total Media
UPMC CEO Jeffrey Romoff speaks during a news conference Monday, March 16, 2015, at UPMC Shadyside announcing the launch of the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance with Subra Suresh, president of CMU, and Patrick Gallagher, chancellor of Pitt.

The “haphazard” approach to health care that forces sick Americans to call, travel and wait for appointments could start vanishing within a decade, UPMC President and CEO Jeffrey Romoff said Monday.

In its place, Romoff envisions a revolutionized medical system that will monitor people through smartphones and other hand-held devices that can collect and share real-time data with doctors who will call patients when the devices spot a problem.

“We will, in fact, create an artificial intelligence better than the superb kind of intelligence that we now have among our physicians,” said Romoff, who announced a sweeping research partnership among UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University to capture, analyze and safeguard patient data.

Executives called the Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance a first among clinical and academic partners, financed with $10 million to $20 million a year from UPMC at least through 2020. The universities will kick in similar amounts from their research budgets to foster new methods to use the data, which include an exploding variety of digital health records, diagnostic imaging, genetic profiles and observations recorded by wearable electronic devices.

Such information doubles in volume every two years and could become a “game-changer” if researchers figure out how it can help detect disease outbreaks, explain the growth of diseases and tackle other health questions, Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said.

“Data now is bigger than one institution, so the full potential of this field can only be realized by joining forces,” Gallagher said at a news conference in the Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside.

Gallagher compared the effort to “a moon shot for health data,” telling the Tribune-Review that the partners want “to drive that transformation and not just go along for the ride.”

Carnegie Mellon President Subra Suresh said doctors in a few years might use a patient's genetic blueprint, medical history and lifestyle patterns to identify a change in daily activity that could improve life expectancy or undermine a disease.

He said advanced diagnostics might alert specialists when a patient's organ transplant is about to fail.

Suresh said the alliance is separate from an $11 million, two-year partnership that the school announced in 2013 with Allegheny Health Network, owned by UPMC rival Highmark Health. That effort centers on combing hospital data for ideas to cut costs and strengthen care.

The data alliance began taking shape once Suresh took office in July 2013 and talked with Romoff about how the Oakland-based school and Downtown-based UPMC, the region's largest health care provider, might collaborate.

Suresh said the discussions advanced when Gallagher assumed Pitt's top job in August. Suresh and Gallagher worked earlier on so-called “big data” issues when they led federal agencies in Washington.

Executives said hundreds of scholars across their organizations and others could contribute to the alliance, which at first will include CMU's Center for Machine Learning and Health and Pitt's Center for Commercial Applications of Healthcare Data.

More specific contours of the program will take time to emerge as researchers rethink how health care might work, university leaders said.

They said the push should sharpen care, cut costs and generate spin-off companies, develop new technologies and lure more business to the Pittsburgh area.

“We've taken the ed-meds economy to the next generation. This is ed-meds 2.0. This is ed-meds on steroids,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said, referring to the education and medical sectors that energize the city's post-industrial economy.

“You can call it whatever you want to call it, but it's the idea of how they work together — not how the education industry is growing and how the medical industry is growing, but how they're combining,” Peduto said.

Romoff said UPMC wants its investments in the alliance to drive jobs and revenue at all three institutions, along with more widespread economic revitalization.

“Together, we will create the next generation of health care, the next generation of information technology and the next generation of Pittsburgh,” he said.

Adam Smeltz is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676 or

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