March 28, 2008

Venture looks to technology to unify health care process

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David Maron, M.D., left, and Peter Miller, are working together on HealthTech Laboratories, a new initiative aimed at developing technology to make the health care system more productive. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Venture looks to technology to unify health care process

Formed in 2006 by Harry Jacobson, M.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs, and Bill Stead, M.D., associate vice chancellor for Strategy and Transformation, Vanderbilt HealthTech Laboratory is a far-ranging venture focusing the expertise of physicians, biomedical informatics specialists, computer scientists, engineers, law and business scholars, leading technology companies and others interested in using information technology to transform health care process.

“With an aging population and continued rising costs, we will need innovative use of technology to help ease the enormous strain on our health care system,” Jacobson said.

“The question we're posing with HealthTech is this: Is there something we can do with technology to transform the health care process to generate big leaps in productivity while maintaining or improving quality? HealthTech will help spearhead efforts in this vital area,” he said.

Working closely with the Institute for Software Integrated Systems under Janos Sztipanovits, Ph.D., professor of Engineering, and Ákos Lédeczi, Ph.D., research assistant professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the initial HealthTech pilot studies will use computers to aid detection and management of sepsis in Vanderbilt medical and surgical intensive care units and evaluation of common patient symptoms in the Vanderbilt adult Emergency Department.

Projects in the planning stages include using technology to aid remote monitoring of chronic disease risk factors.

Peter Miller, director of Vanderbilt HealthTech Laboratory, stressed that HealthTech is interested above all in technology that is adaptable for a wide variety of patients and conditions.

“Our approach will be to pilot ideas rapidly and form public-private partnerships to facilitate wide-scale deployment of technology across the health care system,” he said.

“Health care has largely deferred the benefits of information technology,” Stead said, “and in an age of specialization, rapid discovery and team-delivered care, that hesitancy has become an increasing liability.

“We're moving into an era when information technology will have an increasingly vital role. The opportunities are tremendous. The better we can deploy knowledge and information about the health of individuals and groups, the more efficient and affordable health care will become.

“We're positioning Vanderbilt HealthTech Laboratory at the forefront of the coming transformation,” Stead said.

“We're out to employ existing technology in novel ways,” Miller said. “We would like to collaborate with faculty members from the School of Medicine and from other parts of the University, to see what they may want to pursue.”

“We are looking for ideas that offer the biggest opportunity to effect dramatic change,” said cardiologist David Maron, M.D., associate professor of Medicine and Emergency Medicine and clinical advisor to HealthTech. “We're open minded and want to hear great ideas for leveraging technology to improve care.”

A 2006 conference identified four initial areas of opportunity for HealthTech:

• clinical decision support technology;

• technology supporting self-care and remote health monitoring to lessen an aging population's reliance on traditional health care settings;

• teleconferencing and related technology to extend the reach of doctors and other health care workers;

• Internet delivery of consumer information about the relative merits and capabilities of competing health care providers.

HealthTech intends to pursue corporate and foundation sponsorship. Miller is currently discussing potential strategic partnership agreements with three major technology companies.

Miller, who joined Vanderbilt in 2006, was previously director of the Mission Support Office of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency.

He is an IT entrepreneur, a former senior vice president at Viacom, and former head of engineering for the Consumer Products Division of Apple Computer.

To reach HealthTech, e-mail Peter Miller or David Maron.