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‘COV-IT’: Critical IT Considerations for Academic Medicine

April 9, 2021

Aaron Miri headshot.

Aaron Miri is the chief information officer at Dell Med and UT Health Austin.

On March 12, 2020, Aaron Miri had big plans for the coming months: A renewed focus on research projects and partnerships to support health-focused work across campus, in addition to the usual churn of web development, tech support and other functions in his portfolio.

By the next day, it was clear not only that COVID-19 was a global pandemic, but that it was in Texas, where Miri is chief information officer for Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin and its clinical practice, UT Health Austin. And it was clear that Miri’s plans would need to change.

A year later, Miri and his team have enabled a rapid pivot to remote work, supported the top-down development of a contact tracing program that didn’t previously exist and provided critical tech support to a university vaccine rollout that has served 50,000 people to date.

Along the way, Miri and others at Dell Med and UT Health Austin, which are part of a cross-campus coalition managing vaccine administration for the university, have proven that IT plays an essential role in managing the pandemic — one that reaches beyond telemedicine to address vaccine management, data security and more.

Here, in his own words, are five key learnings.

Follow the Leaders

In this case, the leaders are the members of our clinical operations team. It is critical to us that their desired patient care workflow drives decision-making.

At UT Health Austin, we were careful to create a technology workflow — including registration, sign-in, reporting, vaccine supply management and more — that ran closely alongside the physical operation of the university’s vaccine hub, taking into account real-time considerations like flow of foot traffic. This became even more important once we introduced multiple vaccines into the workflow; each requires unique data precision for state-level reporting, and an inefficient tech setup on the ground means trouble.

Know Your Numbers — & Introduce Them to Others

Analytics are your (best) friend. If you’re not slicing and dicing data for your decision-makers, you — and they — are likely to fail.

Further, data must be actionable and current, and you must have the agility to pivot quickly in pursuit of new metrics when a vaccine delivery date shifts or a quantity changes. One of the things I’m most proud of from the last year is how quickly our health care teams were able to react to emerging hot spots for coronavirus infection thanks to our contact tracing and data analytics teams.

Always Build Better

You must solicit information from patients and clinicians alike as often as possible. Feed it up the chain to your leaders. At UT Health Austin, we meet every day — weekends and holidays included — to review feedback, evaluate data, fine-tune solutions to operational and technology needs and adjust on the fly.

It’s impossible to achieve perfection, and that shouldn’t be your goal. What’s more important is a team that is all in on constant improvement.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

It’s easy to become focused on a once-in-a-career program of this magnitude, but you can’t forget about the rest of your technology shop. In our case, we had to expand our infrastructure for the Dell Med and UT Health Austin websites; traffic to our digital properties rocketed past our planned capacity, set to more regular conditions.

Work Together, Even When You’re Not

Even as COVID-19 sometimes prevents us from being in the same room, strong leadership and nimble communication keep us on the same page. It is critical to have empowered clinical and technology operations leads working hand in hand with knowledgeable support teams. Communication works best when managed by subject-matter experts in each domain, anchored by the expertise of marketing and communications professionals.

At UT Health Austin, my team ensures that data insights and updates about delivery of new technology resources get to the right people. The team led by Chief Clinical Officer Amy Young, M.D., works closely with leaders across campus not only to manage clinical operations, but to get timely updates to patients and the public in coordination with local and state leaders. It’s this agile approach that has allowed us to administer 79,000 doses and counting of COVID-19 vaccine since December — fully vaccinating nearly 30,000 people, with single doses given to another 20,000 — and that will help us do our part to stamp out the coronavirus in our local communities sooner rather than later.