The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center spreads across Dallas and the surrounding area. Three academic institutions comprise the major towers in the network, in addition to two hospitals, three clinical centers, two primary clinical affiliates, nine satellite transplant clinics, and several outpatient clinics and affiliate hospitals. It’s a dense network that supports hundreds of students and thousands of staff, residents, and faculty who annually treat more than two million patients. It is one of the world’s top academic medical centers and it is renowned not only for its teaching and training, but also for its research and quality of care.
Keeping such a large network online and constantly innovating is no small task, a fact that is clear to CIO Mark Rauschuber. Not only does he oversee the connectivity and communication between the different points of UT Southwestern, but Rauschuber also manages 250 technology experts who are split into teams that support hospitals, clinics, EMRs, business, radiology, pharmacy, laboratory, and tactical needs, such as running servers and managing hardware.
The newest team in his technology lineup is dedicated to one of UT Southwestern’s greatest priorities: population health. “It’s the next logical evolution for healthcare,” Rauschuber says. “Healthcare needs to not only happen within a hospital or clinic’s four walls, but as an extension throughout the community as well.” Rauschuber is dedicated to providing the tools necessary to do so and to evolving UT Southwestern’s technology expertise and capabilities to match.
“Population health is the next logical evolution for healthcare, because healthcare needs to not only happen within a hospital’s four walls, but in our population as a whole.”
Information is key to improving population health, and EMRs are a crucial source of that information. When properly kept, an EMR allows providers to know what preceded a patient’s visit and what happened after a hospital stay, enabling them to make well-informed decisions. “Working silos of care don’t help a patient unless they work together and communicate with each other,” Rauschuber explains. “We need to work with our partners and vendors to identify and close information gaps, which is a major part of my role in IT.”
But capturing data is only the first step toward population health. Analysis is the next step, and it helps each person involved in patient care to know what to do immediately and how to anticipate what will need to be done in the future. Rauschuber and his IT teams are continuously working to develop tools to improve analysis, to create new solutions, and to identify even smaller gaps in the process. The hope is that, soon, many data analysis tools will be consolidated and enabled to communicate with each other across departments and health systems. And as the market and technology mature, these tools will become increasingly agile.
In the meantime, Rauschuber takes his leadership role at UT Southwestern seriously. He makes sure to keep his staff informed and alert to the direction that technology and the organization are headed. As healthcare continues to move outside the hospital’s walls, Rauschuber encourages his teams to think outside of the way they’ve traditionally provided care. This is a shift away from the historical records that have been dominating IT’s focus for the past ten years and toward innovative thinking and imaginative anticipation. “It’s a learning curve to shift our focus from where we’ve been to where the market is going, but that’s why we have goals,” Rauschuber says. “It makes sense, from an IT perspective, to think about how we might build on what we’ve already done.”
Building is precisely the mission of Rauschuber’s new population health team. Launched in 2015, the fifteen-member team is focused on systems and applications. They are currently working with multiple care coordination tools that aid providers who work directly with the population. Referral management is one such project. Improving the functionality of the organization’s Health Information Exchange (HIE) and its integration with affiliate care providers’ information systems is another. “Thanks to our HIE, we have the ability to seamlessly exchange data from disparate EMRs throughout our network,” says Rauschuber, who notes the approval of the HIE as a big step on UT Southwestern’s journey to population health. “We’ve been making progress and are achieving our goals, and we’re excited to see our vision come to fruition.”
When it comes to population health, Rauschuber envisions information immediately at the fingertips of healthcare providers who have the ability to share it in a smooth, seamless, standard exchange between organizations. For patients, he sees an even stronger tool for care coordination and referral management, and he believes this will increase patient engagement and foster a comprehensive environment of population health. Ideally, that patient engagement goes beyond delivering lab results; it educates and empowers patients to make the best health decisions for their everyday lives. “We have to always push the idea of continuing to provide patients and physicians all the necessary information they need in order to make the best health decisions,” Rauschuber says. “Ultimately, we want IT’s contribution to population health to make healthcare less complicated, less intimidating, and as seamless as possible for everyone.”
Fortunately, all of this is possible thanks to the organization’s supportive leadership, skilled clinicians, engaged patients, and dedicated staff—which includes many outside of Rauschuber’s teams of technology experts. UT Southwestern is certainly a sprawling operation where there is never a dull moment, but more importantly, it’s an intricate web of connecting points of care—a network of informed, educated, skilled people working together to serve the population of Dallas both in and outside its walls.