Profiles: Using IT to Make Healthcare Affordable


Joerg Schwarz

Professor, Healthcare IT, Business Intelligence, IT Management

Director Global eHealth Business Strategy & Partner Development, GE Healthcares eHealth Solutions

The Possibilities of a Changing Industry

What led you to teach at GGU?

After many years working in Sun Microsystems global solutions team for education and research (as leader for technical and scientific computing) I developed a strong desire to teach myself, and to share my experience with the next generation of IT leaders. With all the changes in healthcare IT, I saw a huge need to educate healthcare experts about the possibilities of IT infrastructure for better care coordination, and also bring IT experts closer to the specific requirements of the changing healthcare industry.

How long have you been teaching at GGU?

Since fall of 2009 GGU has a great variety of students: from young international students that bring a fresh perspective to the class room, to mid career level professionals who aspire to their next step in their career -- I have met many interesting students and learned much from the interaction with them.

Why would you hire a student that studied healthcare IT at GGU?
All the classes we designed for the healthcare program are very relevant to the changes that are happening in healthcare right now at a never before seen pace. Even longtime healthcare IT experts struggle to keep up with this rapid change, but a student who graduated from the GGU program is up-to-date on the issues and knows how to keep current.
What types of jobs can students get if they study healthcare IT?

There are currently many opportunities in IT companies seeking to position their products in the booming Healthcare field -- GGU graduates are well prepared to assist in this strategy. On the other hand, there are also many large healthcare IT organizations looking for employees that can help in their transition to contemporary information systems that comply with new guidelines and standards.

What advice can you give current students to help them succeed after they've completed their GGU education?
Get practical experience as soon as possible -- internships or contract jobs can help to put practical experience to the GGU education and help to increase attractiveness for employers.
Why do you like this field?
There are so many problems to solve! Many other IT fields are very mature, and it is hard to solve a problem that hasnt been solved before. But the interesting fields are always at the edge -- Business Intelligence or Big Data for example is such a new frontier, and care coordination and clinical decision support (based on data analytics) in healthcare is definitely a new frontier. While everybody is worried that healthcare might become unaffordable in the near future, IT and data analytics hold the key to solving this problem; how could you not be excited?
What is your proudest accomplishment?
Besides raising my children? There are a few IT projects throughout my career that I will never forget because of the impact on many lives. The IT system for the county of Sonneberg in Thuringia, for example. Just months after the end of communist Germany we began building their IT infrastructure for a democratic regional Government. Sonneberg is one of these customers where everybody jumped into it with both feet and made it work. Its my prime example for the value of stakeholder alignment. After about nine months, I met an older lady who was an administrator. She was so happy and proud that the system we built helped her serve citizens, she cried and hugged me! She admitted she was afraid of computers first, but with training and motivation she felt she now could master this computer thing. Then and there I knew I wanted to design and build information systems that make a difference. I was fortunate to have had many more of these moments throughout my career, in many different countries and continents, but Sonneberg will always be #1.

A close second might be the first 2 Teraflop supercomputer we built for Cambridge University. Having dinner at one of the dining halls in one of Cambridges Schools is very special. Our computer system was installed in the Vaughon room, and I learned during dinner in these ancient halls that Douglas Adams, one of my favorite authors, named the Vogons in Hitchhikers Guide through Galaxy after the same Mr. Vaughon who was an administrator in Cambridge while Adams studied there. You wont even find this backstory on Wikipedia, thats how Cambridge exclusive it is. You heard it here first!

What excites you?
Building leading edge information systems is my passion ever since Sonneberg (see above) in the fall of 1990. I designed, sold, and helped to built some of the first Teraflop computers, back when a Teraflop yielded a top entry in the list of Supercomputers, ERP systems in Healthcare and Retail before it was standard to use standard software, Cluster systems for Bioinformatics and High Energy Physics long before Cloud computing became ubiquitous, PACS archives when PACS was in its infancy and disks so expensive that we had to use WORMS, and large scale eHealth systems long before HITECH and Meaningful use. These types of systems all have been at the Nexus of technology and user requirements, and it is really fun to do this with the innovators in the field long before the early majority of lemmings follows, to quote Geoffrey Moore here.