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Health IT Leader Fortifies Tech & Policy Innovation

Dec. 19, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas — Dr. Karen B. DeSalvo, a nationally known physician leader working at the intersection of public health, medicine and health information technology, is joining the faculty at the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin in January.

Prior to coming to Dell Medical School, DeSalvo built an impressive career in academic general internal medicine and public health. In 2014, she was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, and she concurrently served as Assistant Secretary for Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

At Dell Med, she will join a growing health policy group that includes senior health policy advisor Dr. Mark McClellan, who led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President George W. Bush, and Lisa Kirsch, a veteran Texas Health and Human Services Commission leader who specializes in Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program issues.

“Karen is an absolute star who is defining the future of medicine. She’s held positions in the White House and was critical to the recovery in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. She recognizes that data is the key to improving the health of populations,” said Dr. Clay Johnston, dean of the Dell Medical School. “This also demonstrates the important role Dell Med can play in vital ongoing policy conversations, at every level of government, about ways to move the system’s focus toward health, not health care.”

Starting in January, DeSalvo will serve as a professor in the Division of Primary Care and Value-Based Health, with a primary appointment in the Department of Internal Medicine and secondary appointment in the Department of Population Health. She will work on a range of projects that involve different parts of the medical school and take advantage of the cutting-edge work happening on the University of Texas campus in the areas of community health, medical care and research related to the social determinants of health. And she will look to leverage technology and digital health in traditional public health programs and strategies — both to advance health beyond the traditional medical model and to address issues where people live, learn, work and play.

“Awareness that health means more than health care cuts across the Dell Medical School. As a brand-new institution, it has a unique opportunity to design an educational, clinical and community approach to health,” DeSalvo said. “The innovation that’s happening here is exciting, and I look forward to joining the dynamic and distinguished team of leaders.”

Dell Medical School was the first new medical school to be built on the campus of a member of the Association of American Universities, a group of top-tier research institutions, in about 50 years. The university broke ground on the school in 2014, and the first class of medical students is in its second year of studies.

DeSalvo also has served as health commissioner for the City of New Orleans, earned an M.D. and Master’s in Public Health from Tulane University, and held a faculty appointment and leadership positions at Tulane, including chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005, she worked with a range of partners to develop a better community health system that supported patient-centered care and population health management on an improved information technology platform. 

“Karen has a special focus on helping the people and populations who have had trouble accessing the health system. In many ways, technology simply extends her compassion — bringing better health more easily and efficiently to more people,” said Dr. Michael Pignone, who chairs the Department of Internal Medicine at Dell Med. “I can’t wait to see what she is able to accomplish in this community.”

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