Regents approve $5 million to continue funding project to transform health care for diabetes patients

AUSTIN—The University of Texas System Board of Regents approved today $5 million to continue funding a project that leverages technology and big data to improve health outcomes for diabetes patients in Texas and beyond.

Project DOC (Diabetes and Obesity Control), the flagship project of UT System’s Institute for Health Transformation, aims to use social, mobile and cloud technology with cognitive analytic tools to develop health care delivery solutions customized for individual patients. These innovative solutions have the potential to improve quality, access and cost of care throughout Texas.

In 2013, $19 billion was spent on health care for diabetic patients in Texas. Roughly 70,000 people with diabetes reside in the lower Rio Grande Valley (RGV) – a South Texas region where access to health care is limited by high rates of poverty, high rates of uninsured patients and a severe shortage of physicians.

In 2014, the UT System launched Project DOC with $5 million in seed funding from the Board of Regents to design a sustainable solution to address the growing diabetes epidemic in RGV and throughout Texas. 

The first phase of Project DOC involved extensive stakeholder interviews to determine the severity of gaps in the local health care delivery system.

Project DOC then engaged major industry leaders as partners to propose how cutting-edge technologies in analytics, wearable devices, data interchanges and communications will enable a next-generation, patient-centric health care delivery model to be developed.

“Project DOC leverages innovative tools at the intersection of medicine and big data to change the way chronic diseases like diabetes are managed,” said Lynda Chin, M.D., UT System’s associate vice chancellor for health transformation and chief innovation officer for health affairs. “Our intent is to drive fundamental changes in our current health care system.”

But technology alone will not solve the problem, Chin said.

“Until we can translate these capabilities into better health outcomes for patients - our job is not done,” she said. “Project DOC is not just about novel technologies, but also about engaging and supporting patients and providers to improve behavior that leads to better health.”

In order to achieve improved health outcomes, the project will collaborate with public- and private-sector partners to design an ecosystem that includes care delivery providers, patients, family members, community members and employers. It will also include local businesses such as retailers to help engage patients, incentivize and reinforce behavioral changes to stay healthier by consuming healthier diets, exercising more and taking medications regularly.

The Board’s approval today will fund Project DOC’s next phase to determine the feasibility of this design to deliver its intended outcomes.

Board of Regents Chairman Paul L. Foster said the project is an example of the UT System addressing a major unmet medical need of an underserved population by leading the way through innovation.

“The funding from the Board of Regents will be used to fundamentally change the way health care is delivered and improve the health of Texans.” Foster said.  “Our focus in South Texas will augment the work of the new medical school being established at UTRGV as well as the UT School of Public Health in Brownsville – both of which focus on addressing the high prevalence of diabetes in the region.”

Understanding the culture of a community, addressing the medical and social needs of patients, and developing technology that will change the way people manage their health in a sustainable way will be a tremendous challenge, Chin said, but it’s one that Texas must tackle.

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking research and serving the needs of Texans and the nation for more than 130 years, The University of Texas System is one of the largest public university systems in the United States, with nine academic universities, six health institutions and an enrollment of more than 214,000. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public universities in Texas. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $15.6 billion (FY 2015) including $3 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. With about 90,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

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