By Jennifer Keirn, Contributing Writer


More than a decade ago, research initiated at the Homer Warner Center for Informatics Research (HWCIR) at Intermountain Medical Center, in Murray, Utah, made a breakthrough in the treatment of acute respiratory distress syndrome.

A close collaboration of physicians, IT professionals and researchers developed a highly detailed protocol that has increased survival rates for ARDS patients from 10 percent to 50 percent and reduced the hospital's costs by $150,000 per case.

It's a prime example of the kind of impact IT professionals and their clinical colleagues can have at HWCIR, which is named for Homer Warner, considered the father of healthcare informatics.

"It's a unique opportunity to apply technology, research and clinical capability," says Marc Probst, Intermountain's vice president and CIO, who oversees HWCIR. "That combination creates an environment that's very challenging but also very rewarding to the individuals involved."

Of the 61 employees in the HWCIR, one-third are MDs and PhDs trained as medical informaticists. The remaining two-thirds are programmers, systems engineers and analysts.

"There's a structured hierarchy on paper, but in reality it's very flat," says Jason Gagner, the center's manager.

It's a workplace that's collegial, low-ego, team-oriented and mission-driven, says Probst. But the pace is swift, and the biggest challenge is keeping up with the barrage of demands for their expertise, he adds.

"We are wearing people out, but they still have tremendous attitudes," says Probst.

But these workplace pressures don't mean rigidity of in-office schedules.

"We redefine what flex time means every day," says Gagner. "We trust all of our employees to get their work done."

Gagner himself has benefited from that flexibility. On his second day on the job, Probst questioned him directly about his career aspirations and what he hoped to learn in his position.

"He said, 'OK, when would you like to start classes, and when would you like to pursue your PhD?,'" recalls Gagner. Probst immediately directed him toward the right classes to begin, and gave him the flexibility to balance his professional and academic schedules.

Potential employees "have come to us willing to take a pay cut, because they say, 'You guys are doing something rewarding and meaningful,'" says Gagner.