Date: December 21, 2009
When Diane Alejo came to The Johns Hopkins Hospital 25 years ago, IBM had just started selling personal computers. E-mail was in its infancy, and the medical community was still struggling to grasp the full potential of computers. But among those eager to jump on the technological bandwagon was the Department of Surgery’s cardiac division.
Then a research assistant in the division, Alejo was asked to help set up a computer and e-mail network and database that would help with clinical practice and research. From there, the University of Maryland graduate’s job evolved into dual roles. She still remains active in cardiac research. But now she also leads the way in the cardiac division’s myriad IT endeavors.
What first brought you to Johns Hopkins and IT work?
I always knew I wanted to work in a research environment like we have here at Hopkins. When I came to Cardiac Surgery, they were building a database to collect information about patients, and I wanted to get involved in that. One of the great things we’ve been able to do is create a registry of our patients that goes back to 1944. We can use that information in research studies and for quality improvement projects.
How do your IT and research backgrounds blend together?
We have a clinical data system that we’ve integrated with other similar systems throughout the institution so that if a faculty member wants to look at a series of patients with a particular diagnosis or procedure, we can identify them easily for research purposes. We also have a very active presence in the cardiac research lab. I help a lot of our students compile data for their own research.
What’s been most exciting about watching technology seep into the medical world?
I’ve been able to watch health care evolve over time, and I’ve seen that the medical arena hasn’t quite kept up with technology like the corporate world has. Now, though, with electronic medical records and a provider order entry system, more and more clinicians are becoming involved. Of course, technology and data mean a lot of things to many people. As researchers, we use it to measure quality of care and outcomes, for instance. But then there are also other uses, like billing or compliance. But, no matter how we’re using it, the ultimate goal is to improve the patient experience. We can use all of this data to make a difference.