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New Department Upends Traditional Diagnostic Model

Nov. 3, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas — Dell Medical School at The University of Texas has launched a new Department of Diagnostic Medicine, which is developing partnerships with local clinical practices and community physicians to redefine how diagnostic testing is designed, delivered and leveraged to improve health.

The new approach to diagnosing diseases has multiple potential benefits for Central Texas patients and physicians: improving accuracy in diagnoses, making testing more convenient and efficient, lowering costs, and broadly integrating patient health data with electronic medical records.

Dell Med’s Department of Diagnostic Medicine, one of only a handful of similar medical school departments nationwide, is chaired by R. Nick Bryan, MD, PhD, a radiologist and nationally known leader in the field.

Key local partners include Austin Radiological Association (ARA Diagnostic Imaging) and Clinical Pathology Associates (CPA), both of which have deep roots in Central Texas and offer a wealth of experience and expertise, Bryan said.

“The opportunity we have at Dell Med – to activate an existing network of medical experts in our community and work collaboratively to organize diagnostic care in a way that makes sense for patients and community physicians alike – really is unique,” he said. “Our goal is to create an integrated body of knowledge for each patient to make as certain a diagnosis as possible, as quickly as possible and for the lowest cost.” That prospect is part of what brought Bryan, most recently chair of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, back to his native Texas.

Most medical schools approach diagnostic medicine – the practice and techniques used to diagnose disease – through traditional departments of Pathology, Radiology and Laboratory Medicine. Pathology and Laboratory Medicine involve examining bodily fluids and tissues through methods such as blood and urine tests, biopsies and pap smears. Radiology uses medical imaging techniques such as X-rays, ultrasounds and magnetic resonance imaging, or MRIs, to diagnose disease. At Dell Med, these three specialties will be integrated.

“For us, a test is a test – it doesn’t matter if it’s a CT scan or a blood test. We are focused on the patient,” Bryan said. Instead of designing care around the type of test, Dell Medical School and its partners are focused on streamlining and improving the patient experience — before, during and after testing.

“This represents a new model of health care delivery that has real benefits for our community, and it’s a partnership that our team is excited to be a part of,” said Gregory F. Connor, MD, president of ARA Diagnostic Imaging.

That view is echoed by Edward Weir, MD, president of CPA. “Working together, we have the potential to impact medical education, care and research in our community, and to support the medical school’s mission to revolutionize how people get and stay healthy,” he said.

Collaboration around diagnostic medicine also extends to other key Dell Med partners, such as Seton Healthcare Family, part of Ascension. Whether performed in in-patient facilities managed by Seton or outpatient clinical sites jointly operated by Dell Med and Seton, diagnostic testing will be coordinated with patient needs, specialty physicians in ARA and CPA will supervise and interpret the tests, and the results will be promptly available to regional referring physicians and their patients.

“Launching this new department – and rethinking diagnostic medicine – is an important step for Dell Med,” said Clay Johnston, MD, PhD, dean of the medical school. “In the realm of patient care, it not only brings another innovative component to UT Health Austin, the school’s new clinical practice, but it also provides clear benefits to patients in other health care settings throughout Travis County.”

This unique approach also aligns with Dell Med’s focus on health informatics – broadly defined as how information technology and health data are used to improve patient care and health outcomes, Johnston said.