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Justin Rousseau: Building Bridges With Health Care Data

Aug. 29, 2022

That’s at the heart of what Justin Rousseau, M.D., MMSc, is working to solve. Rousseau, an assistant professor in Dell Medical School’s departments of Neurology and Population Health, leverages both his medical expertise as a neurologist and training in biomedical informatics to support the many ways data can transform health — both in and out of the clinic.

Portrait of Justin Rousseau.

Justin Rousseau, M.D., MMSc

What’s the problem you’re hoping to solve, and how did you come to recognize it?

Health care data is complex, messy and sits in silos of disparate health care organizations. We generate tons of this data on a daily basis. There is incredible potential to use health care and health-related data to improve the quality of care, yet there are persisting barriers preventing us from realizing this potential. 

I recognized this through my medical training and as a patient navigating multiple health systems. As both a provider and patient, I learned workarounds to dealing with poor information-sharing infrastructure and missing data that results in tests needing to be re-ordered that were done elsewhere, and much more. I collected and carried documentation of all of my and my family’s health care encounters. I learned how to deliver and receive appropriate care despite our electronic health records.

What are you doing about it?

I started with building and co-leading a team at Dell Med called the Data Core, focused on building bridges across health care institutions as honest data brokers to collect and integrate data for patients receiving care at multiple sites. We built and delivered data sets based on the needs of investigators across all departments at the medical school to support research and improvement of the quality of care.

Now, I have transitioned to building bridges with collaborators across The University of Texas at Austin and innovating with use cases where different data infrastructure functions are needed. Just a handful of examples include:

  • Supporting ongoing research to study care and outcomes for children who have experienced trauma by working with academic medical centers in the Texas Childhood Mental Health Care Consortium to build a clinical research network and design a scalable data warehouse with the Texas Advanced Computing Center.
  • Leading informatics development with the Steve Hicks School of Social Work to support a learning health system for clinical sites caring for individuals who have experienced a first episode of psychosis. We are building an application from data collected at all sites to allow the clinical teams to visualize and use the data to support caring for their patients — and to support an environment of data-driven care and continual improvement.
  • Working with collaborators at Austin Emergency Medical Services and Integrated Care Collaboration, Austin’s health information exchange, to build automated real-time emergency alerting notifications when individuals with dementia or mild cognitive impairment have an emergency. This will serve as a data communication platform to bring the neurology or primary care team in communication with the hospital team to intervene in this high-risk population to prevent development of delirium.
  • Working with collaborators in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering as well as the Moody College of Communication to study digital biomarkers such as cell phone usage and other wearables associated with cognitive decline.

What makes you positioned to approach this problem? 

My training and experience in biomedical informatics and clinical informatics provide a unique combination of health care, data science, data and systems engineering, and health information technology. 

My collaborations are also what make me best positioned to approach this problem. Biomedical informaticists live at the interface of multiple disciplines and function as bridge builders and translators to collaboratively develop unique solutions in health care. As a neurologist, I have specific interests in neurological disorders such as dementia, cognitive impairment, delirium, headache management, acute stroke care and other neurological emergencies. My subspecialty in clinical informatics makes me more of a generalist in the application of health data and informatics interventions, but I have begun to find more focus on brain health with my projects. 

The New York Times asks readers to tell their “Tiny Love Stories” in just 100 words. What’s the tiny story of your work?

There was a flurry of activity in the emergency department when Mr. H arrived. He was brought in by his son, who was visiting from out of town and found Mr. H acutely confused. Mr. H’s son was the only family at bedside, and was not familiar with his father’s health. “What medications does your father take?” “Does he have any allergies?” “Does he have any prior medical conditions?” The son had no response. “Shouldn’t that information be in your computer?” Even though he had received care just down the road, critical information about Mr. H was not accessible at this critical time.