May 12, 2016

IT leaders working across UAB Medicine, UAB and Children’s of Alabama to make technology more impactful, accessible

Written by
Last fall, UAB Medicine hosted an online Innovation Challenge as a way for faculty to submit ideas and suggestions on ways to improve work-life balance and as a means to refine key areas for the Faculty Stress oversight committee, led by David Rogers, M.D., senior associate dean for Faculty Affairs and Professional Development, to focus improvements.  One of the indicated stressors is technology, and specifically, the number of logins and passwords faculty must keep up with to access UAB and UABHS systems. 

“We asked faculty across UAB Medicine to tell us what stress areas were having the most impact on them, and the login and password issue  was a clear example ,” Will Ferniany, Ph.D., CEO of the UAB Health System. “Our information leaders are constantly evaluating programs and processes across UAB Medicine and UAB to create a experiences and to make the day-to-day use of technologies we rely on less burdensome for faculty.”

One of the challenges for the School of Medicine is that currently, their IT services are obtained through a variety of groups, including internal IT shops in the School of Medicine itself, but also the two corporate IT shops, UAB IT and UABHS Information Services, as well as Pediatrics IT, and Children’s of Alabama. 


Curtis Carver’s philosophy on information technology begins with a blank page. Carver, Ph.D., who joined UAB in June 2015 as vice president for Information Technology and chief technology officer, isn’t interested in giving lessons on the history of IT or in having preconceptions to solutions, but would rather hear from faculty and staff.

“I’m focused on what’s actionable now in improving the lives of our faculty, staff and students—talking with them about problems they face with technology and hearing their ideas for a solution to meet those needs,” Carver said. “Then, with full transparency, prioritizing those activities and accomplishing them.”

UAB IT has created several ways for faculty to interact and share their thoughts including town hall meetings, like the one Carver hosted with SOM faculty on Wednesday, May 11, and the SPARK initiative website, where users can suggest technology changes or enhancements they’d like to see implemented in the UAB Community. Ideas that have come from the online initiative include Box, which give faculty and staff access to unlimited cloud-based storage and the ONE Drive which gives a terabyte of storage to all faculty, staff and students (it also includes 5 complete copies of Microsoft Office faculty and staff can download onto their devices).

Carver said UAB IT is also in beta trials for a new password management tool Keeper, which he says is a secure password vault system that can help faculty and staff keep track of their professional and personal login information. Anyone interested in the tool can contact AskIT to join the beta trial. 

UAB Health System Information Services (HSIS)

Joan Hicks, chief information officer of the UAB Health System who oversees HSIS, says that the challenges can be addressed in many ways, but clarity around the current state and desired outcome is key.  Her team has laid the foundation to not only reduce the number of different user accounts and passwords required for the Health System applications, but to also reduce the number of times those account passwords must be entered. For instance, to address the desired outcome of ‘fewer different passwords’, Hicks said HSIS created the ONE Password web portal, which gives clinical and administrative users the ability to synchronize one password across multiple UAB Medicine systems including UABHS Desktops, Sun Ray, Citrix, Exchange email, mobile apps such as myPatients, Horizon, and the core EMR IMPACT, among others.

HSIS has also taken steps to reduce how often those passwords must be entered by creating pass through authentication for UABHS-managed desktops. “If a physician authenticates their ONE credentials on a UABHS computer, many of our applications don’t require additional logins to access,” Hicks said. “For instance, the image access application iSite is launched from within the EMR without an additional login, and many others. “ Physicians and staff also use card-based authentication as they move day-to-day in clinic and other locations. With those cards, desktop sessions can be resumed within 15 minutes without requiring the physician to login again; after 15 minutes, the physician will have to reenter their ONE password to resume, but once they do, all applications are still active, authenticated, and in the state they last left them in nearly all cases.  

“Due to the number of clinical and business applications we manage on the Health System side, we don’t expect to get to a single password, but we’ve consolidated nearly all of those we manage, to make sure they accept the ONE password,” Hicks said.

Children’s of Alabama IT

IT managers at Children’s of Alabama are also working toward technology improvements that would positively impact faculty in the Department of Pediatrics.

"COA is working diligently towards our goal of ‘One patient, One record’ and intend to implement new technology with our ambulatory project that will reduce the number of times a provider must enter their username and/or password,” said Ryan Allen, Clinical IT division director at Children’s of Alabama. “This has been used in the ED and Inpatient areas, and has been well received.  We will also continue to work closely with our partners at UAB and the Department of Pediatrics to share authentication credentials, whenever possible.”