Penn Medicine Academic Computing Services Newsletter

IS Leadership Insights from Brian Wells

Leadership Insights

The Power of the Three C’s

Common systems, Centralization and Collaboration are three guiding principles within the Penn Medicine Corporate Information Services (IS) department.  I was recently reminded of the power of these principles during a discussion surrounding ways to enable recruiting of inpatient subjects into the Penn Medicine Bio-bank.  This needed capability presents many logistical and information systems challenges.  Unlike recruiting within an outpatient lab full of waiting patients, recruiting inpatients requires overcoming two significant technology challenges:

  • Accurately identifying recently admitted patients that have not already donated to the bio-bank
  • Notifying bio-bank recruiters who can then visit the patient for consent review and signature.

Fortunately, because of our recent PennChart 2 project that included implementing the Epic Inpatient module and the Epic Research module, the technology needed to implement this capability already exists.  Building the technology is not a barrier to implementation.  We can create a bio-bank study in the EMR, link the list of bio-bank subjects to that study and then use the Best Practice Alert feature for the notification function. The only real challenge is funding the bio-bank staff that can handle the additional volume of subject recruitment.  

Penn Medicine’s centralized Information Systems team that supports all three missions eliminates another barrier that still exists for most of our peer institutions.  The EMR IS support staff and research IS support staff can easily collaborate with the bio-bank staff without the political realities that occur in an organization that is not as integrated as Penn Medicine.

This is just one good example of the many benefits to come from our investment in the three C’s.


HPC Statistics

(February 2017)

  • CPU Hours — 614,257
  • Disk Activity (TB) — 1,219
  • Archive Activity (TB) — 843
  • Total Number of Users — 454
LIMS Statistics

(February 2017)

  • Total Number of Users — 125
  • Total Samples — 414,792
CTMS Statistics

(February 2017)

  • Total Studies – 2,897
  • Total Subject – 79,311
  • Total Active Accounts - 300
Customer Service Group (CSG) Tickets

(February 2017)

  • Total Tickets –  2,823
  • Total Support Hours – 1,564

Technology Initiatives


System Automation for Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs

The office of Biomedical Postdoctoral Programs (BPP) requested assistance with automating their appointment process for biomedical postdoctoral students.

The existing appointment workflow was entirely manual - filling out a packet of forms (many with duplicate data), printing, scanning, emailing, obtaining signatures on the appointment letter, and handing off documents through several different departments.  By using a manual workflow, the packet took several weeks to reach the BPP office.  Follow up on missing documents; entering data not captured during the packet creation, etc. also took additional time.

Phase one of the automation project focused on generating the appointment letter electronically and also facilitating signature by the Principle Investigator (PI) and the postdoctoral candidate.  Additionally, PMACS delivered:

  • A dashboard for tracking receipt of all the information, signatures, and documents  
  • Email notifications for the PI, the department representative, and the candidate when actions are necessary to move the workflow forward  
  • Creating printing and forwarding capabilities for the appointment letter, participation agreement, and related forms

PMACS implemented the new BPP Appointments system in early February, 2017.   Several departments began using the new automated application for all their initial postdoc appointments.

Preliminary user feedback from the four participating departments has been very positive, noting specific benefits of:

  • Much increased speed for business administrators and the BPP office
  • Replacement of the paper process with a centralized database
  • Increased participation: candidates are now signing the Participation Agreement, which departments had rarely received, almost immediately and 100% of the time.

Subsequent phases of this project, contingent upon prioritization include:

  • Phase II
    • Subsequent appointment letters
    • Additional essential features
  • Phase III
    • Integration of existing features and decommission of Postdoc Database
    • Penn ID generation
  • Phase IV
    • Integration with external systems – ISSS, Tax Office, PennWorks

New Website for Global Health

The PMACS Web team provides web design and support to 446 Perelman School sites, comprised of over 47,000 distinct pages and/or documents.

The Center for Global Health group recently asked the web team to update their web site.  Of particular importance was including an interactive map that displays the center’s work across the globe.  This map allows quick drill-down to programs of interest for prospective researches and students.

The updated web site, inclusive of the interactive map and updated content, can be found at the following URL:


PennChart Phase Two Activation

As noted in prior newsletters, the PennChart Phase Two Implementation includes substantial integration with the current PennChart Research application and provides significant improvement for research workflows. The new integrated platform allows more streamlined enrollment and patient management within PennChart as well as streamlines the billing processes related to research activities.

In March 2017, Penn Medicine successfully completed the Phase Two implementation at Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania (HUP), Penn Presbyterian Medical Center (PPMC), and Homecare/Hospice.  The successful activation of PennChart capped a thirty-month journey that has resulted in a fully integrated ambulatory, inpatient and homecare electronic patient record. Penn Medicine is the first academic medical center in the nation to achieve this level of integration that further enables its patient care, patient safety, research and operational efforts. Now, regardless of where a patient is seen in the Penn Medicine community, caregivers will have access to the patient’s entire integrated patient record via PennChart.

The rapid adoption of PennChart throughout Penn Medicine has been driven by the collaborative efforts of the Information Services representatives and the departmental representatives who worked together to design, build and implement a system that supports specific clinician workflows throughout the enterprise. Tied to these clinically oriented efforts was the development and implementation of the patient billing and revenue cycle components of the system. With this solid foundation now in place, Penn Medicine is poised to leverage the data found in PennChart to support far-reaching goals such as Population Health Management, Research Computing and Precision Medicine. These are very exciting times at Penn Medicine as our information services journey continues to relentlessly pursue the ultimate care for our patients and their families.

PennCTMS Activation

In January 2017, PMACS and the Office of Clinical Research (OCR) completed the project to convert the Abramson Cancer Center’s (ACC) existing clinical trials management system (CTMS), Velos eResearch, to an enterprise version capable of supporting all of Penn Medicine. The PennCTMS has interfaces to the PennChart electronic medical record - such that study, patient, and demographic data will remain current and accurate in both systems.

The benefits of this centralized CTMS are improved regulatory compliance, study data aggregation, visibility into study status and study progress, and financial oversight.

Expansion to onboard trials outside of the ACC will soon be underway.  Once fully adopted, PennCTMS will house an estimated 2,500 clinical trials!

User Tip

New Information Security Policy

Data security has become a tougher challenge in the modern age, with increased threats of Ransomware and phishing attempts along with the existing computer viruses. Hackers are increasingly targeting their attacks on high-value data such as credit card information, social security numbers, intellectual property, and health information. Universities and health systems are among the prime targets for these data.

In light of these increasing threats, the Perelman School of Medicine has just published a new data policy for the storage and transmission of Protected Health Information (PHI) and other personally identifiable information. This policy is a result of a joint effort between Penn Medicine, the University’s Office of Audit, Compliance and Privacy, and the Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Please take some time to review the policy:

If you have any questions, please contact Information Security at

For more security-related information, visit the PMACS Information Security web page:

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