5 Questions for Dr. Andrew Watson, UPMC

r. Andrew Watson is a leader in applying telemedicine and other health information technology to the improvement of patient care. A fourth-generation surgeon who specializes in colorectal and inflammatory bowel disease, he plays a key role in integrating health information technologies, such as telemedicine, mobile applications and voice recognition, into clinical practice across the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

Dr. Watson is also medical director of the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM). Founded by UPMC and other leading technology and healthcare partners, the CCM promotes a new model of health care that seamlessly integrates information technologies to put patients at the center of care. We recently caught up with Dr. Watson to ask him about the impact of healthcare technology, and specifically about the benefits of mobility for both clinicians and patients.

What does mobility mean to you?

Watson: When I started in medicine, mobility was dragging around a patient or an intern or a resident. But now we’re seeing several forces that have cropped up. Number one is that the providers are more mobile. We were mobile beforehand because we had pagers. Then with electronic health records we had be near a desktop or a wall-based computer. But we’re seeing the providers, nurses and doctors being released into the open air again with mobility. More importantly, the consumer electronics market is making our patients mobile and empowered and this is the force behind mobility. From my perspective, we’re seeing the uncoupling of healthcare from the urban environment and taking it back to the patients where it started and it’s very exciting.

Does mobility improve patient care?

Watson: The effect of mobility on the patients is tremendous. This is a very powerful positive driving force because 95 percent of the time our patients are at home or work and we can now offer healthcare at home or work, which we have not been able to do. So the value to patients is so hard to quantify. I’ll also tell you I don’t how far we can go with this. I would say that 40-50 even 60 percent of my office visits can be done at home.         

What’s the future for mobility?

Watson: For the providers, mobility is very powerful because when we leave the hospital we turn into a different person. In the era of pagers or handwritten charts, when we left the hospital, we were only available to be contacted, not make decisions. Maybe you could find me on a pager or a rotary phone at home. Now we have uncoupled, cloud-based providers who can walk around with a device and make very fast coordinated decisions that will very quickly turn into team based decisions in the cloud. We’re just beginning to see it. The future of our quality healthcare success is mobility.

What’s your view of the healthcare landscape today?

Watson: Healthcare as an industry is currently fragmented across the United States. What this is about is enabling patients to move to different levels of care, different care team members and simultaneously access multiple care team members with intelligence. That’s what it is. You can solve one transitional care piece, the discharge, but that’s actually a very small part of it. UPMC is an integrated delivery finance system. We have a health plan and we have providers and hospitals. We have both. So we’re integrated and the heart of making our patients better in western Pennsylvania is taking better care of them.

How has technology impacted your practice and clinician workflows?

Watson: There’s been a tremendous focus on technology in the past five years or so. The providers now understand it’s a necessary part of our lives in the workplace. More importantly, it’s part of our lives outside of work. For both clinicians and patients. I honestly think that the consumer electronics market has thrown healthcare a giant life buoy as we’ve floundered to some degree in the storm of healthcare. The consumer electronics market is teaching us and our patients how to use a piece of glass you can touch and talk to. They’re developing apps, they’re giving us data, they’re teaching all of us about big data. So the cultural change is not an industry specific process, it’s a societal evolution and the timing could not have been better. It’s no longer an IT shop; it’s life as we know it.