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Peter Tarczy-Hornoch, MD, has been serving as UW Medicine’s chief data officer since January. He is also the chair of Biomedical Informatics and Medical Education (since 2011), professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Neonatology and adjunct professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. In his role as chief data officer, Tarczy-Hornoch will facilitate the development of a new organizationwide data and analytics strategy, address current analytics challenges, and provide leadership for the collection, processing and sharing of data.

He has 40 years of biomedical software development and biomedical informatics experience overlapping with 20 years of clinical medicine.

Tarczy-Hornoch has been at UW Medicine since 1992 and has served in many informatics roles, including operational and leadership roles in clinical, research and analytics computing. He has worked on many clinical database efforts, including developing and deploying (and in April sunsetting) the MINDscape tool and overseeing the transition from MIND to a second-generation Enterprise Data Warehouse. In 2010, Tarczy-Hornoch was the recipient of the School of Medicine Service of Excellence Award for contributions of Informatics Infrastructure of patient care and research enterprises, particularly for his work in analytics, along with numerous other awards. He works closely with Information Technology Services (ITS) and is on several of their committees; is the deputy editor for the Journal of Biomedical Informatics; serves as chair of the National Group of Chairs of Biomedical Informatics; and is on various external advisory boards.

As the division head of Biomedical and Health Informatics (since 2001) and chair, Tarczy-Hornoch has helped establish multiple informatics educational programs at UW including research focused MS, PhD and postdoctoral training; online applied clinical informatics training with School of Nursing; an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accredited clinical informatics fellowship joint with Family Medicine; and an undergraduate transcriptable option in biomedical and health informatics joint with the Information School.

Get to Know Him:

With years of experience in both software development and clinical medicine, how did you find yourself in these fields and when did they start to overlap for you?

I would say I was your typical first-generation San Francisco Bay Area computer nerd. I started a software consulting company in high school. After graduating high school I was faced with a choice between working on a contract for software for the Department of Defense or for a biomedical instrumentation company, I realized I wanted the work I was doing to have a positive impact. This led me to want to do computer applications in medicine. As a freshman in college, I discovered the (at that time) very young field of biomedical informatics, which at Stanford (at the time) was called medical information science, and I started to pivot from generic computer science to biomedical informatics. It was having an appreciation for both methods in informatics and running a company that made me realize the importance of understanding customer needs. I felt that medicine was too complicated to understand without immersing myself into it. It was my desire to really understand user needs for biomedical software that led me into medicine. After undergrad I went to medical school; I did an internship and residency in pediatrics, a fellowship in neonatology at the UW School of Medicine, and then was a neonatology attending for about 15 years. At that point I figured I understood clinical medicine well enough to go back to pure informatics.

What will your role as chief data officer encompass?

Developing a new organizationwide data and analytics strategy for UW Medicine and UW Medicine ITS. Specifically, providing leadership for the collecting, processing and sharing of data in support of our mission to improve the health of the public. That includes our clinical care activities, research activities and educational activities as well as supporting business operations for UW Medicine.

I’m really excited to be in this new role and building on what is already an incredible data analytics team within UW Medicine IT Services led by Beth Britt. I am looking forward to figuring out where we need to be and how to get there now that we have a new data warehouse in place, now that migrating inpatient to Epic and Destination: One are completed, and as we embark upon the new UW Financial Transformation project. We are figuring out where we want to be in five years with our current enterprise data warehouse given the evolving healthcare and financial landscape. We want to make sure we understand the data and analytics needs of all the people we serve in UW Medicine — including clinical, research, finance, patient information and data analytics needs — and understand how our outstanding analytics and reporting teams, inside and outside IT Services, can best meet those needs efficiently.

How will your time be split with this new role?

Overall, 30% of my time will be spent as chief data officer and the remainder of my time is split roughly 40% serving as the department chair and being involved with educational activities of the department and the other 30% is spent on research.

How does medical data and analytics play a role in medicine?

The use of data and analytics in healthcare is an aspect of the field of biomedical informatics. Broadly, the field of biomedical informatics concerns itself with the use of biomedical data knowledge and information for discovery and application.

It’s more than just clinical data and it’s more than just the electronic healthcare data. Medical data and analytics includes data from patients and patient reported outcomes. It includes data provided by patients to their providers — such as when you fill out a mood inventory for your provider — and is data the patient created, not the health system. If a patient is enrolled in a research study, then they may be providing research data. It includes data from some of our operational activities including financial data for medical transactions. There is also comparative data, how other hospitals are doing on a given healthcare outcome metric — like hospital inquired infections — and how we use that for benchmarking.

For Biomedical Informatics, our departmental vision is using biomedical information to improve biomedicine, health and education. As Dr. Paul Ramsey, former CEO of UW Medicine and professor emeritus in the Department of Medicine, characterized it, informatics and analytics serve as the peripheral and central nervous system for UW Medicine.

What are your goals as chief data officer?

The short-term goals are understanding how things have evolved over the last five to six years since I’ve last had a hands-on leadership role in the data and analytics core at ITS. Another is understanding how the needs of the consumers of data and analytics at UW Medicine have evolved since the last strategic plan, which was really focused on accountable care. Since then, we have had the financial improvement and transformation effort at UW Medicine, we’ve had COVID-19, we’ve had the deployment of Destination: One and Epic in the inpatient setting, we’ve had the conversion to a third-generation warehouse, and we have UW Financial Transformation coming down the pike. So, understanding how customer needs have evolved since the last data and analytics strategic plan from 2014 is a critical piece.

During winter and spring, I focused on understanding the current data and analytics landscape as well as digging in on some key short-term challenges that needed to be addressed before strategic planning. This summer we are launching a data and analytics strategic planning process with stakeholders representing key analytics needs — clinical, quality, operations, fiscal, research, education, etc. — with a goal of a new five-year data and analytics strategic plan by the end of 2022.

In summary, we need to understand on a detailed level the IT side, what’s happening on the customer side, and determining what our short-, medium- and long-term important issues are that need to be addressed. The short-term goals can’t wait for the development of a new strategic plan and are being addressed now, while the medium- and long-term goals will get folded into the strategic plan.

What research projects are you working on?

The unifying theme over the last three decades for my research has been data integration of electronic biomedical data — clinical, genomic and other including data — for knowledge discovery and to integrate this knowledge with clinical data at the point of care for decision support.

My current research focuses on secondary use of the electronic medical record (EMR) for translational research including outcomes research, learning healthcare systems, patient accrual and biospecimen acquisition based on complex phenotypic eligibility criteria; the use of EMR systems for cross institutional comparative effectiveness research; and integration of genomic data into the EMR for clinical decision support.

What keeps you at UW Medicine?

The University of Washington is an incredible academic institution. On one level it focuses on being one of the world’s top tier research institutions and at the same time it’s not trapped in an isolated ivory tower because it’s invested in addressing the state of Washington’s needs. I think UW strives to be internationally renowned for its research and at the same time making a difference locally, regionally and nationally through the impact of its work. Scholarship, making a difference and being highly collaborative are UW values. If you are interested in exploring a new research area there is likely to be a national or international leader at UW and they are probably willing to work with you on making a difference in the healthcare space.

It’s the same for UW Medicine, we’ve been at the top in primary care education for decades and a leading research institution for funding as well, and we aim to serve the educational and workforce needs for the WWAMI region. It’s a cool environment where you can both do cutting edge research and have real world impact.

The net result of this is that I’ve not found any other place that offers the same combination of resources and values as UW Medicine and UW.

What’s something that most people don’t know about you?

My wife and I love cross-country skiing, hiking and longer-distance cycling in the Methow Valley. Although most people who work with me already know this, as during COVID-19 I’ve taken a few Zoom meetings out there.

Tarczy-Hornoch biking in Winthrop.

What types of media are you consuming right now (favorite books, podcasts, etc.)?

I’m an omnivorous consumer of media but I skew toward books and written news media versus video. I typically read online magazines and newspapers, but I read from quite a few different types of articles and sources. Scientifically, I spend much of my time reading online journals and discussion forums.

I do read a lot of books that I come across in my other media consumption or that friends say I would love to read.

I’m currently reading “The Generation Myth” by Bobby Duffy, which discusses how generations are defined — was it when you were born or when you experienced societal events? For example, are generations defined by how old you were when COVID-19 happened or is it the year you were born?

The other one is “The Spirit of Music” by Victor Wooten, an incredible jazz bassist. A huge downside of COVID-19 for my wife and I is not seeing live performances as I’m a prolific consumer of live and recorded music. I like more spontaneous forms of music than highly scripted forms of music, so I like jazz more than classical and appreciate a live improv jazz session more than a recording.