September 16, 2005

Stead to hold new chair in Biomedical Informatics

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William Stead, M.D.

Stead to hold new chair in Biomedical Informatics

William Stead, M.D., has been selected as Vanderbilt's first McKesson Foundation Chair in Biomedical Informatics.

Stead, associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs and director of the Informatics Center, will continue to be honored for years to come by McKesson Foundation's gift, $2 million disbursed over the next five years. The chair is his to hold as long as he wants, and when he vacates the position it will then be called the McKesson Foundation-William Stead Chair in Biomedical Informatics.

In a conference call finalizing the gift, Stead, speaking for Vanderbilt, said, "Let me say how extremely grateful we are that the McKesson Foundation has decided to do this. I cannot imagine anything that would be a greater honor than to have someone make this type of commitment to biomedical informatics and to make it in my honor. I'm grateful and touched by that."

Stead is internationally known as a pioneers in biomedical informatics. He came to Vanderbilt in 1991 and has been the architect of the Medical Center's informatics strategy. Last year he was elected chairman of the board of regents of the National Library of Medicine, one of the National Institutes of Health and the world's largest medical library. The NLM is the primary source of funding for biomedical informatics research grants.

Harry Jacobson, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs, said the chair will bolster Vanderbilt's bio-medical informatics efforts.

"I can think of no better way to support future research and production of biomedical informatics than with this generous gift from the McKesson Foundation. And certainly there is no more appropriate person to honor than Bill Stead, for his dedication and foresight have pioneered this field. Patient care of the future will be more streamlined, more thorough and safer thanks to contributions from both Dr. Stead and investment from corporations such as McKesson."

Vanderbilt Chancellor Gordon Gee agreed.

"This chair will be a permanent recognition of Bill Stead's enormous contributions to one of the most important fields in health care and technology. His work has made Vanderbilt an international leader in bioinformatics, and we are grateful to McKesson for supporting his vision."

McKesson has a long history of working with Vanderbilt. In 2001 McKesson Provider Technologies purchased the licensing rights to Vanderbilt's physician order-entry system, called WizOrder. The company named the product Horizon Expert Orders and made it available to other institutions.

McKesson was founded long before the computer age, in 1833, and the company now has annual revenues of more than $50 billion. McKesson is the 16th largest industrial company in the United States, actively engaged in developing solutions to meet the challenges of complex health care delivery systems.

"For 25 years, the McKesson Foundation has been committed to helping people in the communities where its people work and live," Stead said. "Its particular focus has been programs that provide access to quality health care for low income children and youth."

"We're endowing something beyond the fact that Vanderbilt is our customer," said McKesson's Jim Nemecek. "Vanderbilt is leading initiatives in information technology that are much broader than our product line. The context of the gift is to honor Dr. Stead on his contributions over the past 25 years."

"The McKesson Foundation is looking at improving non-profit health care in the poorest parts of towns across America," said McKesson Foundation president Marcia Argyris. "We put fingers in the dykes with small grants here and there, but investing in Vanderbilt is at a much higher level that would help all of us. This gives us a national platform."

Stead said his work currently "focuses on strategies for connecting an individual person's health information across time, geography and the various pieces of the health care system. I've suggested an architecture to support that kind of patient data connection."

That architecture is being tested in a pilot project in Southwestern Tennessee, with research support from the federal government and the state that connects TennCare patients' records with the spectrum of physician specialists who care for them. It aims to bring together health care information for about 20 percent of Tennessee's population by 2007. "If successful, this project will improve the care of the McKesson Foundation's target population by making their health information accessible wherever they seek help — in the school, from a community agency or from a health care provider," Stead said.

"I first proposed a regional test bed project in 1997. At that time we were not successful in obtaining grant funding because the NIH was looking for work focused on pure technology projects, not the combination of sociology and technology needed to share information across a region," Stead said.

"We had to work without extramural support until the country focused on the need for a national health information infrastructure in 2003. When those (requests for proposals) were released we were ready. The money provided by McKesson will support work focused on accelerating change in health care, such as the regional project, and other things we want to do that are not part of existing funded projects," Stead said. "The whole idea behind a chair of this sort is to provide the kind of money to enable us to test ideas and get them to where we can apply for additional funding. It lets us do early prototyping. It's heavy on the research side of research and development."

Stead was appointed by President Bush to a federal systemic interoperability commission, which will issue a report on Oct. 24 in Washington D.C., laying out what needs to be done at the federal level to achieve interoperable health information.