Main page content

Innovative diabetes project gets $15 million from Board of Regents

AUSTIN — The University of Texas System is building an ecosystem to fight diabetes with technology to provide better medical care and change lifestyles.

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 to develop health care delivery tools customized for individual diabetes patients. These innovative solutions have the potential to improve quality, access and cost of care throughout Texas.

The Board of Regents approved $15 million today to continuing funding the project.

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 (RGV) 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., UT System’s associate vice chancellor for health transformation and chief innovation officer for health affairs.

In 2013, $19 billion was spent on direct cost of care for diabetic patients in Texas. Roughly 70,000 people with diabetes reside in lower 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 in the Brownsville area to identify the gaps and inadequacies of the current care delivery system. This analysis drove Project DOC’s design.

In 2015, Regents approved another $5 million to fund a feasibility study.

Project DOC collaborated with UT Health’s School of Public Health and Su Clinica - both located in Brownsville - to demonstrate that it could collect patient data from wearable and remote monitoring devices, as well as patient self-reported information on mobile apps. The Project also showed that it has the necessary technical and operational capabilities to integrate these data sets with patients’ electronic medical records on a secure data platform on the cloud.

The next phase - funded by the $15 million approved today - is to develop apps that enable patients and physicians to improve the control of diabetes and patient care.

“Project DOC leverages innovative tools at the intersection of medicine and big data to change the way chronic diseases like diabetes are managed,” Chin said. “Our intent is to drive fundamental changes in our current health care system.”

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

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.

These partners will also include community programs and local retail businesses to help engage patients, incentivize them and reinforce changes in their behavior, so they will stay healthier by improving their diets, exercising more and taking medications regularly.

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.

“Through Project DOC, the UT System is committed to fighting a chronic disease that’s devastating the lives of so many Texans,” Regent Alex M. Cranberg said. “Using technology to help facilitate patient engagement and assist doctors with care is 21st-century medicine that can be model for other universities and health care systems to adopt.”

About The University of Texas System

Educating students, providing care for patients, conducting groundbreaking basic, applied and clinical 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 14 institutions and an enrollment of more than 217,000, the UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees, educates almost two-thirds of the state’s health care professionals annually and accounts for almost 70 percent of all research funds awarded to public institutions 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 20,000 faculty – including Nobel laureates – and more than 70,000 health care professionals, researchers, student advisors and support staff, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

Background Materials

News Contact Information

Ken Ma:  • 512-499-4778 (direct) • 954-621-7961 (cell)
Jenny LaCoste-Caputo:  • 512-499-4361(direct) • 512-574-5777 (cell)