Guest column

Expert: Houston has a role to play at the dawn of health care consumerization

Now is Houston's chance to create a modern economic cluster around health information and knowledge exchange. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

For the most part, Houstonians were either born here or came here in pursuit of economic opportunity — a job of some sort that brought us to Houston, either directly or indirectly. Economic opportunity is part of the DNA of this city. The breadth of opportunities our city affords people from all over our country and all over our world are seemingly endless.

Houston's growth in the 20th century was fueled by large, strategic, capital investments in our region's infrastructure. Railroads, Hobby and Bush airports, the Port of Houston, the Texas Medical Center, NASA's Johnson Space Center, the Astrodome, and our surrounding petrochemical facilities have all been enormous economic drivers of investment, jobs, and prosperity for our region.

We are all familiar with the names of our early city visionaries and leaders. Were it not for their vision and leadership, Houston would still be a backwater town on the bayou, 50 miles inland from the closest seaport. Many of these leaders of early Houston had both a legitimate self-interest and a sense of civic virtue that inspired them to give back to a community that nurtured their success. They strongly believed in building a better Houston both for themselves and for succeeding generations with a can-do community spirit. Much of their success in developing Houston into the international city of today was a result of employing innovative mechanisms for matching private and public funding.

Today, the Texas Medical Center located in Houston is comprised of over 50 hospitals, medical schools, and other institutions that are all dedicated to public health. The TMC itself has an intertwined and symbiotic relationship with Houston and is a case study in how public and private institutions can work together to create such a unique medical complex that has benefited so many — and will benefit so many more in the future.

The good news is that today most institutions and physicians have electronic medical records. The bad news is that there is still a problem sending a patient's data across the street to a different health care provider electronically. This problem is called a lack of "interoperability" of health records, and this remains an unsolved problem nationally.

Making the data available to enable access to the right information at the right time to deliver the right care, is a challenge for every health care community in the country. That unresolved national problem can be Houston's opportunity to offer solutions and to leverage one of its largest industries.

We can transform health care delivery by enabling access to comprehensive electronic patient information when and where needed. There is now a strong consensus that new health information and communication technologies have a critical role to play in building a twenty-first century health care system that is safe, effective, patient-centric and equitable.

Most consumers today carry a powerful computer in their pocket called a smartphone. These consumers, also known as patients, are the most underutilized member of the health care delivery team and the only constant factor in the delivery of care. Moreover, the patient should care most about effective delivery of care and outcome. Notably, the added cost to have the patient involved is essentially zero in relation to the cost of delivery so patients would get better care at less cost.

We grew up thinking that doctor knows best, but that was until Dr. Google showed up able to make virtual house calls, whenever, and on demand. How many industries have we witnessed that were disrupted by the Internet? All indications are that this transformation will increase is size, scope and speed and is set to disrupt the largest industry in the largest economy in the world. We are at the dawn of the consumerization of health care.

Because of the enormous social challenges, there is currently no community in the United States that is an economic cluster for health information technology and health information exchange. Houston has the resources to become that community and create a health care hi-tech economic cluster. This suggestion is no more bold than a proposal to dig the Ship Channel 50 miles, or creating the first domed stadium in the world, or landing a man on the surface of the moon and returning him safely to Earth.

Now is Houston's chance to create a modern economic cluster around health information and knowledge exchange. If we are successful, Houston can then not only legitimately claim to be the home of the largest medical center in the world, but also the best.

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Manfred Sternberg of Manfred Sternberg & Assoc. PC Attorneys at Law has practiced consumer and commercial law for over 30 years.

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Building Houston

 
 

From advanced computation to robots, Rice University, the University of Houston, and Houston Methodist are all working on using technology for medical innovation. Graphic via Getty Images

Research, perhaps now more than ever, is crucial to expanding and growing innovation in Houston — and it's happening across the city right under our noses.

In InnovationMap's latest roundup of research news, three Houston institutions are working on brain-related health care solutions thanks to technologies.

University of Houston research team focused on brain injury treatment through computation

Badri Roysam and his team at the University of Houston are working with the National Institute of Health to develop tools to treat concussions and brain injuries. Photo via uh.edu

A University of Houston researcher is tapping into technology to better treat brain injuries and conditions that scientists have not yet figured out treatment for. Badri Roysam, the current chair of electrical and computer engineering at UH and a Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen University Professor, and his team have created a new computational image analysis methods based on deep neural networks.

"We are interested in mapping and profiling unhealthy and drug-treated brain tissue in unprecedented detail to reveal multiple biological processes at once - in context," Roysam says in a UH press release about his latest paper published in Nature Communications. "This requires the ability to record high-resolution images of brain tissue covering a comprehensive panel of molecular biomarkers, over a large spatial extent, e.g., whole-brain slices, and automated ability to generate quantitative readouts of biomarker expression for all cells."

Roysam's system, which was developed at the the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, analyzes the images on UH's supercomputer automatically and can reveal multiple processes at once – the brain injury, effects of the drug being tested and the potential side effects of the drug, per the release.

"Compared to existing screening techniques, using iterative immunostaining and computational analysis, our methods are more flexible, scalable and efficient, enabling multiplex imaging and computational analysis of up to 10 – 100 different biomarkers of interest at the same time using direct or indirect IHC immunostaining protocols," says Roysam in the release.

The open-source toolkit, which was developed thanks to a $3.19 million grant from the National Institute of Health, is also adaptable to other tissues.

"We are efficiently overcoming the fluorescence signal limitations and achieving highly enriched and high-quality source imagery for reliable automated scoring at scale," says Roysam. "Our goal is to accelerate system-level studies of normal and pathological brains, and pre-clinical drug studies by enabling targeted and off-target drug effects to be profiled simultaneously, in context, at the cellular scale."

Houston Methodist and Rice University launch new collaboration to use robotics for clinical solutions

Rice University's Behnaam Aazhang and Marcia O'Malley are two of the people at the helm of the new center along with Houston Methodist's Dr. Gavin Britz. Photos via Rice.edu

Rice University and Houston Methodist have teamed up to create a new partnership and to launch the Center for Translational Neural Prosthetics and Interfaces in order to bring together scientists, clinicians, engineers, and surgeons to solve clinical problems with neurorobotics.

"This will be an accelerator for discovery," says the new center's co-director, Dr. Gavin Britz, chair of the Houston Methodist Department of Neurosurgery, in a news release. "This center will be a human laboratory where all of us — neurosurgeons, neuroengineers, neurobiologists — can work together to solve biomedical problems in the brain and spinal cord. And it's a collaboration that can finally offer some hope and options for the millions of people worldwide who suffer from brain diseases and injuries."

The center will have representatives from both Rice and Houston Methodist and also plans to hire three additional engineers who will have joint appointments at Houston Methodist and Rice.

"The Rice Neuroengineering Initiative was formed with this type of partnership in mind," says center co-director Behnaam Aazhang, Rice's J.S. Abercrombie Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who also directs the neuroengineering initiative. "Several core members, myself included, have existing collaborations with our colleagues at Houston Methodist in the area of neural prosthetics. The creation of the Center for Translational Neural Prosthetics and Interfaces is an exciting development toward achieving our common goals."

The team will have a presence on the Rice campus with 25,000 square feet of space in the Rice Neuroengineering Initiative laboratories and experimental spaces in the university's BioScience Research Collaborative. The space at Houston Methodist is still being developed.

"This partnership is a perfect blend of talent," says Rice's Marcia O'Malley, a core member of both the new center and university initiative. "We will be able to design studies to test the efficacy of inventions and therapies and rely on patients and volunteers who want to help us test our ideas. The possibilities are limitless."

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