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UT System will leverage technology to improve care for diabetic patients

EL PASO – The University of Texas System is committed to leading the nation in developing technology aimed at transforming the way health care is delivered to diabetes patients.

The UT System Board of Regents voted today to allocate $5 million to fund the first phase of Project DOC, which stands for Diabetes Obesity Control. The goal of Project DOC is to use big data and technology – whether social, mobile or cloud – to improve the health of diabetes patients by enhancing access to care, empowering better self-management and promoting healthier living.

Because almost 30 percent of South Texans are diagnosed with diabetes – one of the highest rates in the nation – Project DOC will initially target the lower Rio Grande Valley region. However, the technology will be designed so that it can be implemented in communities across Texas and the United States, said Lynda Chin, M.D., who is spearheading Project DOC through her role as a UT System Chancellor’s Health Fellow. However, the technology will be customized for a specific community so that it is culturally and socially appropriate.

“It is important that we understand the community and the population we want to serve, so that the needs of the patient will dictate the technology, not the other way around,” said Chin, who is chair of Genomic Medicine at UT MD Anderson. “A core principle guiding Project DOC is our focus on patient outcome. Technology alone does not deliver health outcomes, even if designed properly. It has to be adopted and effectively used by the patients and medical providers, so there will not be a generic, one-size-fits-all solution.”

The technology developed through Project DOC might, for example, use a mobile app to send reminders via a cell phone to patients to take and track medication. But in order to design the app for the right users – who may or may not be the patients themselves – and for the app to be effective, technology developers must understand cultural and language preference in a community, as well as other social needs.

“This technology will enhance the ability of medical providers to practice preventative medicine, which is critical for diabetic patients. Project DOC has the potential to dramatically improve the health care delivery system by getting care to the people who need it the most,” said Rose Gowen, M.D., a practicing physician and Brownsville city commissioner. “We need to empower patients to self-manage their care, and, given the severe shortage of physicians in South Texas, we need to give health care providers more tools to deliver the best possible care.”

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, but it’s one that the state can’t afford not to tackle, Chin said. In 2012, $18 billion was spent on health care for diabetes patients in Texas.

“We’re assembling an interdisciplinary team of industry leaders to work together to address a major public health issue,” said Ray Greenberg, M.D., Ph.D., the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs.

Project DOC will begin in the city of Brownsville, leveraging the community programs and a decade-long cohort study being carried out under the leadership of Susan Fisher-Hoch, M.D., and Joseph McCormick, M.D., of UTHealth School of Public Health Brownsville Regional Campus, Greenberg said.

In addition to collaborating closely with the newly-established South Texas Diabetes & Obesity Institute at UT Rio Grande Valley, Project DOC will work with the UT System Research Cyberinfrastructure, the Institute for Transformational Learning and UT System institutions to explore ways to use Project DOC technology and data to accelerate research and innovation.

“This initiative will enhance both the research and educational missions of the UT System,” Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., said. “But most importantly, it is targeting a devastating and deadly disease and, as a result, has the potential to dramatically improve the health of millions of Texans.”

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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