Fostering Innovation with UT Austin CIO Aaron Miri

Aaron Miri, CIO for UT Health Austin and Dell Medical School, joined host Bill Russell to explore the evolving role of a healthcare CIO, the strategy and innovation model for UT Health, and the future of digital healthcare.

Aaron Miri, CIO at Dell Medical School and UT Health Austin

What Does CIO of Healthcare Mean in 2021?

As CIO, Miri is in charge of the clinical delivery perspective, the medical school research divisions, the community health workers, and the events they do with the city of Austin.

In addition to his role as CIO, he explained how he takes on additional roles and responsibilities as needs arise. He is incredibly passionate about his position and works to do whatever he can to help. In the next generation of this position, Miri foresees healthcare companies looking for someone who also understands business, strategy, marketing, patient experience, digital tools, and collaboration. 

“It’s that dynamic individual that can sit at the board level, have a discussion, go multiple directions and then bring it all home with how tech can be the enabler,” Miri explained.

His position focuses on the digital, with analytics, insights, and other traditional functions. Additionally, he collaborates with team members and leaders to ensure their wants and needs are met. Regarding innovation, according to Miri, he innovates side-by-side with leaders. In the IT team, he has organized this process into DevOps, insight innovation, clinical informatics, and customer success teams.

His goal is to have the team move towards innovating on the fly rather than acting as a client-server 2.0. According to Miri, they have a model for innovation that encompasses VC, private equity, and accelerating startups

“What I think fundamentally I appreciate about UT Austin is they’re all about taking those bets. We tend to take a lot of it,” he explained.

According to Miri, the nature of innovation internal to UT Austin and Dell Med is to iterate and fail fast.

“There’s a lot of things that we do that we trial them out. Think of UT Austin as a contained ecosystem, where if something is a really good idea, we want the world to be able to see that…It is going to be something where if you can share it. You can teach it, and you can change what starts here, then that’s what the ethos of UT Austin is all about,” he said.

UT Vaccine Equity Initiatives

UT recently received an endowment for a homeless initiative, which has been influenced by their Population Health Department; specifically, Dr. Tim Mercer, who has led numerous initiatives in Austin’s Red Cross homeless shelters. Last year, they utilized analytics and contact tracing to determine hotspots and proactively dispatch teams to Austin homeless shelters, according to Miri. 

Mercer partnered with Miri’s analytics team to determine how to provide masks and now vaccines for these isolated individuals. According to Miri, part of the endowment is to take lessons and codify them into practice across their clinical care delivery modalities.

“What we have found is the community that’s sort of disenfranchised like that, whether they’re disconnected or whatever else, they just want to be heard. They want to be engaged…What UT Austin has done generally has always been to say, how can we level the playing field and open access to all?” he said. 

However, this is influenced by data, which they are tracking through the pandemic. By having these demographics, they can stay informed and not leave out sections of the population. 

“We’re constantly evolving and learning from the data and helping people to better understand the importance of a lot of this preventative wellness and care,” he said.

The Future of Telehealth

Addressing the future of healthcare, Miri believes telemedicine is an aspect of this. Currently, he encourages his clinicians to do as much telemedicine as possible. According to Miri, telemedicine allows better access for most primary care needs, as it cannot always be at one location. Its success can only be tested once more of these capabilities are extended into homes. 

With Uber announcing its prescription delivery partnership with SureScripts, Miri sees this as the future. 

“Something like that is what’s coming down the pipe, and it’s going to take technology, it’s going to take a willingness in the healthcare community. And last but not least, it’s going to take reimbursement where I do feel that now our officials and others are listening and seeing that this actually saves a lot of money,” he said.

Despite the pandemic, UT Austin and Dell Medical School did not stop growing. According to Miri, they opened up an ambulatory surgery center. They developed several new operating rooms with robots, new computational health clinics, second opinion services, a post-COVID clinic, pediatric hospitals, and partnerships. The public will see a continued expansion. 

Two major healthcare concerns are mental wellness within the community and caregivers and the holding back of preventative care. According to Miri, there will be a rush of people wanting to catch up for 2020. 

“2021 is all about growth; making sure the needs are met, making sure we anticipate what’s coming down the pipe, and making sure from an IT side I’m putting a team and tooling, applications, and systems out there that are agile and dynamic, meeting the needs of where we’re going and that perhaps are unseen today. But the data and where we’re headed will show us tomorrow,” he said.

Interoperability at UT

According to Miri, UT Austin’s interoperability strategy is to have every piece of data as discreet as possible, dynamically stored. His goal is to liberate the data while following HIPAA regulations. 

“We’re a teaching institution; we’re a learning university. That’s what we do. We’re not going to take it and monetize giant data sets and sell it to big pharma. That’s not what we’re about. We’re about teaching. We’re about moving the ball forward, and you can only do that if you have a very open book philosophy,” he said.

The UT mantra is “What starts here changes the world,” and that is what Miri’s hope is. 

“My objective has always been to help tomorrow, to listen to communities, and to deliver and execute on a promise of better healthcare delivery, whether that’s in my case, leveraging technology, or it could be affecting policy in the future. I continue to learn like a sponge here and mentor under phenomenal leaders and grow. And, hopefully, tomorrow we’ll have more,” he said.

To learn more about this episode of This Week in Health IT, watch the full interview at www.thisweekinhealthit.com

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