University of Texas CIO: Disrupting healthcare is the easy part, integration and scalability are harder

By Jonah Comstock
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Some of the biggest unsung challenges inherent in disrupting an industry are infrastructure and ecosystem challenges. Lynda Chin, The University of Texas System’s associate vice chancellor for health transformation and chief innovation officer for health affairs, is tackling these problems head on.

"If one were to look back at the last decade, since the beginning of when these digital and connected health solutions emerged, they have great potential and certainly a lot of hype for any one of these devices or mHealth applications," she told MobiHealthNews. "But if you really look at the impact on what matters most, which is the health of the population and costs of the healthcare system, I would say they have not delivered. The costs continue to rise and population health continues to decline."

Chin will be a presenter at our Digital and Personal Connected Health forum at the HIMSS annual conference on February 19th and 20th in Orlando, where she'll talk about The University of Texas's Digital Health Platform, a care ecosystem designed, in collaboration with partners including PricewaterhouseCoopers, AT&T, Walmart, and IBM, to create interoperability and establish data connectivity across traditional healthcare and new entrant organizations in clinical and real-world settings.

[Don't miss out on the premier digital health event at HIMSS17 -- check out our lineup of digital health innovators and be sure to register for the event when you sign up for HIMSS!]

"What we’ve been trying to build -- focusing on diabetes in a community that’s one of the poorest in the country, representing the most needy population that consumes the healthcare system -- what we are trying to do is really create the underlying infrastructure that can create coherence so that a market full of solutions can be presented to consumers, so providers can compete and we can shift the buying decisions to the consumer, which I think is the only thing that would make healthcare truly personalized and patient-centric," Chin said.

Chin argues that the data connectivity we need can't be driven by large EHR providers and hospitals, because the data contained in EHRs is a fraction of the data needed to really improve care, which includes patient-generated data and data that comes from retail clinics like Walmart, where underserved populations might go to recieve their care. And asking hospitals to create their own infrastructures is too much of a burden, especially in resource-poor areas.

"What we really need is a much more agnostic, neutral, system," Chin said. "Think of it as the highway system. I think the current system would be equivalent to asking the automakers to not just build cars but build their own roads so when the customer buys their car they can drive somewhere. And I think that is just a highly fragmented and unstable system. Instead, car manufacturers should focus on building a better car, and know there’s a highway there that the customer will be able to use."

Chin sees her work at the University of Texas as important not because it proves out the value of digital health technologies, but because it helps lead the way in how to integrate already proven technologies into complex care ecosystems.

"Remote monitoring is a proven technology solution," she said. "What we’re proving is that we can integrate it into a traditional provider system and develop analytics to support the use of the data so that it isn’t just standalone remote monitoring. Using a connected device and having a nice report you can take to your doctor is great. It’s better than not having the information. But ultimately the purpose of remote monitoring is to be able to, in real time, proactively intervene so you can prevent catastrophic events, which is what costs the system money."

[Join innovators from Cleveland Clinic, Intermountain, Partners Healthcare, Cedars-Sinai and more! Don't miss out on the premier digital health event at HIMSS17 -- check out our lineup of digital health innovators and be sure to register for the event when you sign up for HIMSS!]

The University of Texas system and its partners are operating under the conviction that digital health has made big strides, but it's ready to move onto the next step, which will involve big investments in integration and scalability.

"Disruption at the end of the day is the easy part. Integration is the much harder part, but if you don’t do it you’re not going to turn a potentially constructive solution into a real impact," Chin said. "Because there isn’t a single app, a single analytic, a single device, or a single drug that will solve our healthcare problems. So because there isn’t a magic bullet, these solutions need to be integrated in some way that makes sense to the patient."