February 29, 2008 By Jim Meyers
Christy Quinlan is excited about IT. As CIO and deputy director of the Information Technology Services Division at the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), she's also excited about the department's mission. DHCS helps get health care to those who normally wouldn't have access to it, including about 6.5 million low-income residents.
"We also are the provider for Californians who have AIDS, people who would not be able to get health-care insurance otherwise," Quinlan said. "When you think about it in those terms, I find it compelling."
She's especially proud of DHCS's award-winning program for genetic screening, which tests expectant mothers and newborns for dozens of hereditary and congenital disorders. "In our pilots, we would identify babies who have these conditions, and change their diet in some cases, and profoundly affect the outcome of their life by just diet," Quinlan said. Sometimes this change eliminated the need for medication; sometimes it saved a life.
The testing also saves money. "The savings is monumental," Quinlan said, noting that a lifetime of care for one person with mental retardation can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, while a diet change costs very little. Screening can make the difference.
When the department increased the number of disorders it was screening for, numerous IT challenges arose, such as aggressive legislative deadlines and hardware issues with delicate lab equipment from Europe. New requirements were also added during development.
Still, Quinlan's team finished the project a month early. "I can honestly say I have excellent staff. They're very dedicated and committed."
The staff is quite familiar with tight deadlines. Earlier, it added data encryption to about 2,000 laptops in a month. Once that ambitious goal was met, the team also encrypted 6,000 desktops.
Quinlan's team recently completed an award-winning service-oriented architecture (SOA) project for identity management with the Social Security Administration. It's a shared service, so other state agencies can also use it. "We've been focusing a lot on the SOA," Quinlan said. "I find that kind of exciting, because it seems to be giving us more flexibility."
SOA will help the DHCS move forward on various improvements, including health-care reform, automation, e-health records and e-prescribing. For Quinlan and her staff, it's all part of helping to improve the health of California's citizens.
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