Roughly 70,000 people with diabetes reside in the lower Rio Grande Valley (RGV) – a South Texas region with limited access to health care.
Imagine if the health care system today could provide care beyond hospitals and clinics to more affordable and convenient locations such as retail stores, workplace health kiosks and smartphone apps. Project DOC could help better manage patients to reduce the chronic disease burden that is costing the United States $2 trillion a year in medical costs and $794 billion in lost productivity.
Take diabetes for example. It is a chronic disease that affects 29.1 million Americans today, and by 2050, one in three will have it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Diabetes Report Card. Nowhere in America is the problem more acute than the Rio Grande Valley, where an estimated 30 to 60 percent of the population has the disease. Health care costs for these patients will balloon to an estimated $1.2 billion by 2020.
Fighting diabetes is a formidable health care challenge that requires creative thinking and innovative approaches. Led by Dr. Lynda Chin, The UT System’s Institute for Health Transformation has convened an ecosystem of stakeholders across public and private industries — from patients to health professionals to technology developers — to develop a sustainable and scalable solution to address this chronic disease burden. Starting with diabetes management in the Rio Grande Valley, Project Diabetes Obesity Control (DOC) demonstrates how big data and technology innovation can catalyze change in chronic disease care and management, and more importantly, benefit underserved communities who are unequally burdened with chronic diseases.
Project DOC has established a network of stakeholders in the lower Rio Grande Valley, including doctors, nurses, promotoras (Hispanic health care educators), community health organizations and retailers to engage patients. This includes partnering with Wal-Mart and community health programs to offer free health screenings and education at convenient locations and using mobile technology developed by AT&T to empower self-management by patients at home and support doctors. No matter where patients are, a secure health information interchange operated by PricewaterhouseCoopers will ensure that doctors have full access to the patient’s data from clinics, retail locations or their homes. A cognitive application developed by IBM Watson Health will organize patients’ complex health and medical data in a way that doctors can get the full picture in minutes, so they can spend more time talking to their patients.
"Project DOC leverages innovative tools at the intersection of medicine and big data to change the way chronic diseases like diabetes are managed,” said Chin, the 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 the project is not just about technologies or finding magic bullets. It’s about engaging all stakeholders to develop a holistic solution to improve chronic disease management and motivate healthier behavior for improved health outcomes."
Map and data by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Project DOC is a pilot program for Chin’s re-envisioned approach to health care, which she refers to as Health System 2.0. Her model integrates traditional health care capabilities with community-based, mobile-enabled chronic disease management products and services, from prevention and screening to intervention. It is organized around the patient to provide individualized care beyond the hospitals or clinics of a traditional health care system.
Health System 2.0 is delivered by a digital infrastructure — health information highway — to enable secure network sharing of data and clinical expertise. This highway provides retailers, doctors, community organizations and others with the tools to transform health care into an effective system designed to reduce chronic diseases.
"This health delivery model will make chronic disease care more accessible and affordable to underserved populations,” Chin said. “If it’s successful in South Texas, Health System 2.0 can be replicated around the country and applied to many other chronic diseases."
But changes will not happen overnight. There is no single app, device or test that alone will address the complex challenges facing our health care system. It will take more than just the government or the tech industry.
Project DOC is about showing how public and private sectors can come together to develop a solution that will benefit patients. This ambitious project has the potential to reshape the health care landscape in its quest to integrate new ideas and technology as well as private industries and communities into patients’ health care plans.