By Brendon Phuong. Deepti Pandita, chief medical information officer (CMIO) and associate professor of medicine at UC Irvine (UCI) Health, is a nominee for the prestigious HIMSS-AMDIS* Physician Executive Leader of the Year award. The entire UC Tech community can support her candidacy (cast your vote by November 28 – see voting instructions below). In this interview, she discussed her role at the intersection of information technology (IT) and healthcare delivery. She is a leader in the domain, with over two decades of experience in clinical informatics, a field which was in its infancy when she began in 2015. She was one of only 140 people who graduated with a clinical informatics degree that year, among whom only 20 were women.
The interview transcript, below, was edited for clarity and is based on a recorded interview with Laurel Skurko.
Pandita’s career and contributions to the field of informatics
My journey started with traditional medical training, including residency and board certification in Internal Medicine. However, I found my passion during the transition from paper to electronic health records, and I embraced this change. I pursued further education, completing dedicated training in Bio Medical Informatics and becoming board-certified in clinical informatics in 2014. I was among only 140 people, 20 of whom were women, who achieved this certification across the United States that year.
After becoming board-certified in medical informatics in 2015, I served as the medical director of clinical informatics in a large health system in Minnesota, overseeing multiple clinics and hospitals. Later, I became the chief health information officer for the largest safety net system in Minnesota. I focused on teaching and started a clinical informatics fellowship program, the first in Minnesota. My involvement in the national informatics community includes leadership roles in organizations like the American College of Physicians (ACP), where I chair the ACP Medical Informatics Committee, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), and AMIA (American Medical Informatics Association). I have worked extensively on advocating for digital equity and reducing clinician burnout in the context of electronic health records. My recent nomination for an award provides generous recognition of my contributions in these areas.
Pandita’s focus today
(1) A focus on designing the patient journey
In my eight months at UC Irvine Health, I’ve been impressed by the institution. UC Irvine boasts an incredible wealth of talent, spanning the entire campus, School of Medicine, health sciences, basic sciences, and clinical care delivery. Across each of these teams, there is a strong commitment to innovation and staying on the cutting edge of patient care. My focus has been on designing the digital patient journey, with plans to transform the new campus into a paperless, patient-friendly flagship location. This vision includes features like wayfinding, chatbot technology, and accessible patient data. My current efforts revolve around shaping a hospital and care system of the future that seamlessly integrates technology for everyone in healthcare, enhancing the patient experience alongside caregivers and providers.
(2) Leveraging AI for patient messaging
I find crafting solutions that have a positive impact on our patients and that alleviate the workload on our clinical teams meaningful in my work today. We are currently using AI in responding to patient messages, all while clinicians provide oversight. This innovation has notably lightened the load on physicians who traditionally managed these messages.
It’s important to note that our utilization of AI extends beyond triage: it’s actively involved in addressing patient inquiries, primarily in an administrative capacity. This encompasses tasks like generating return letters or providing guidance on managing common health concerns, including patient instructions and other administrative functions.
We’ve also harnessed AI for email management, using the same technology (EMR-delivered ChatGPT technology). This system helps streamline administrative tasks related to patient care. We’ve improved the system to effectively identify messages that AI can reliably respond to. During our early pilot phase, we found that approximately 12% of messages could be answered by AI, with physicians reviewing and adjusting the responses for accuracy. Although 12% may appear modest, it translates to significant time savings, especially when you consider that many Primary Care doctors, for example, address over 100 messages a day.
(3) Improving productivity and convenience through digital patient care, when indicated
The divide between the digital patient experience and the in-person patient experience is important to consider. Digital solutions play a significant role, but they are not suitable for everyone. There’s a subset of patients, particularly those with chronic diseases or severe illnesses, who still need in-person care. Digital excels in streamlining interactions for chronic disease management and adjusting medication dosages. By offloading these tasks from clinicians, it frees up their time to focus on patients with more serious conditions. The value of digital lies in improving the efficiency and productivity of healthcare delivery.
From a convenience perspective, digital care benefits patients who would otherwise need to go to the trouble of taking multiple forms of transportation, leaving work, arranging childcare, and so on. By offering digital alternatives, we eliminate these logistical challenges. The impact of digital care on the community and society is substantial, offering cost-saving measures and convenience.
Pandita’s long-term vision for UC Irvine Health
Looking ahead, my vision for the next few years at UCI Health is to revolutionize the digital patient experience. I aspire to create a seamless, end-to-end journey for our patients, where they can schedule appointments with any clinic or provider that suits their needs from the moment they decide to seek care. This digital experience will extend across the entire patient journey, covering aspects such as the discharge process, at-home care, and even the concept of “hospital at home.” Our objective is to provide a comprehensive digital patient experience that spans the entire spectrum of care. Given the progress we’ve made and the resources at our disposal, I firmly believe that UC Irvine is well-prepared to turn this vision into a reality within the next three to five years.
What qualities and skills Pandita looks for in a team member
When hiring people in IT, the number one quality I look for is strategic thinking, which extends beyond a background in technology. I define strategic thinking as a clear understanding of how our work impacts patient care. They understand that they are a part of a service industry, serving our patients and contributing to their well-being. A strategic perspective defined in this manner is essential for roles in our team.
In addition, several specific skills are becoming increasingly important. When hiring, I seek individuals who understand these concepts:
- Work with small data, big data, and analytical tools
- Apply large language models to data for meaningful insights and innovation
- Process and workflow management, as well as human-centered design, analytics, and AI
Alongside these emerging skills, certain consistent skills remain vital, such as being a change agent and possessing strong change management abilities. The new skills are focused on data and analytics, including turning data into knowledge and wisdom for driving cognitive computing.
My leadership style revolves around leading by example. Clinical informatics is a collaborative field that relies on relationship-building and understanding workflows. It’s hands-on, and so I prioritize face-to-face interaction when possible. I actively participate in operational meetings to grasp pain points and provide insights, whether it’s suggesting EPIC Electronic Health Records solutions or offering data analytics expertise.
What and who inspired her to pursue a role in medical informatics?
The decision to pursue a role in medical informatics was influenced by a combination of factors. My father, who comes from the world of academia and served as the dean of a large university in India, has always been a significant influence on my career choices. However, beyond that, I was unaware of the existence of the field of medical informatics. In my earlier years, in my community, if you excelled in your studies as a female, the default path was to go into medicine. I didn’t know about the alternative career paths that existed.
Once I became aware of the field of medical informatics, I sought out mentors who guided me on how to pursue relevant courses and training. These mentors played a pivotal role in my journey. One memorable encounter was with a well-known physician informatician, Teresa Cullen, at an American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) meeting. This conversation sparked a sense of purpose, and I joined her in starting a Women and Informatics Association, which has grown significantly since its inception. This experience invigorated me and made me realize that I wasn’t alone in my journey, as others shared my passion and vision.
What do you do outside of work?
Outside of work, I’m enjoying the change in scenery and lifestyle since moving to the west coast. Minneapolis can get extremely cold, so experiencing 80-degree weather here in Orange County, California, is a refreshing change. It’s my first time living outside the Midwest, and I’ve been warmly welcomed by the friendly people here. One of my newfound pleasures is hiking, and Orange County offers numerous hiking trails that I can explore year round. I appreciate the diverse geography, where, within a few miles, I can find mountains, the coast, dry or wet weather, and more. This variety has been a fantastic aspect of life here. I also have a passion for gardening, and I’ve discovered that almost anything can grow in California’s climate. This is a significant contrast to my previous experience with a shorter growing season. I’m excited to have a full 12 months of gardening in this beautiful environment.
Related Reading (Peer reviewed publications by Pandita)
- Patient Characteristics and Subsequent Health Care Use by Location of SARS-CoV-2 Testing Initiation in a Safety-Net Health System | Health Policy | JAMA Network Open | JAMA Network
- Assessing perceived Effectiveness of Career Development efforts led by the women in American Medical Informatics Association Initiative | Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
Vote for Pandita
Please visit the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) website, to find both a description of Deepti’s nomination for the Physician Executive Leader of the Year award, and the opportunity to cast your vote. For detailed instructions on how to vote, please review these voting instructions, created by the UC Tech News team.
Summary of Deepti’s nomination: HIMSS CHANGEMAKER IN HEALTH AWARD FINALIST DETAILS
BioAward Category: HIMSS-AMDIS* Physician Executive Leader of the Year Award:
Deepti Pandita has made a significant impact to the healthcare industry, specifically in clinical informatics and solving for digital disparities. Dr. Pandita practices as an internist and is currently Associate Professor and CMIO at University of California, Irvine. She serves on the AMIA Board of Directors, chairs the Medical Informatics Committee for the American College of Physicians, and is a member of the HIMSS Physician Committee. Dr. Pandita was recognized as the 2023 AMIA Informatics Physician Leader of the Year.
* HIMSS: Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society
*AMDIS: Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems
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