By Sofia Sokolove | December 13, 2016 | Lifestyle
Here are 10 ways the city is revolutionizing wellness, from genetic and fitness breakthroughs to skincare and mental health advancements.
Cracking the code: Austin innovators are using technology and digital advancements to break new ground in health care.
Between top-tier research at the new University of Texas Dell Medical School and ongoing breakthroughs made by the Livestrong Foundation, Austin is undergoing a healthcare revolution. As medicine and wellness become increasingly reliant on technological advancements to move forward, and as Austin becomes an increasingly larger hub for the best minds working in tech, our city is poised like never before to be a leader in medical innovations.
We talked to medical experts and healthcare professionals across all fields about the intersection of technology and healthcare in Austin. From allergies to aging, here are 10 ways that our city’s healthcare advancements and willingness to embrace technology are setting a healthy example for the rest of the country.
In March 2015, Baltimore-based sports apparel giant Under Armour (UA) came to town with the sole purpose of establishing a technology division, moving into 35,000 square feet at the revitalized Seaholm development. The Connected Fitness division’s first endeavor, a robust piece of technology called UA HealthBox, is being touted by UA as the world’s first connected fitness system and retails for $350. The HealthBox consists of four tools—a band, scale, heart rate chest strap, and an app, UA Record—all designed to give users a full picture of their health. The device is a unique approach, explains a UA spokesperson, because it’s “a system solution, rather than just single devices that live independently.”
“Cancer is not a single disease,” says Dr. Thomas Yankeelov, a cancer researcher who holds a dual appointment in the Cockrell School of Engineering and the Dell Medical School. “There are not enough resources, patients, or clinical trials to do something as simple as select and then optimize a treatment plan for the individual patient.” To treat each patient as an individual, he explains, you have to have a theory that allows you to make predictions. Yankeelov’s team uses incredibly advanced imaging to collect data that more accurately predicts a tumor’s potential size and growth. This process is similar to the one a meteorologist uses to predict the weather. And it can have a major impact on cancer treatment. As he puts it: “If you can predict outcome more accurately, then you can intervene more intelligently.”
“What’s limited in technology is not technology limitations—it’s the limits of human thinking and aspiration,” says Nick Reddy, chief digital officer for healthcare technology at Baylor Scott & White. “The art of possibility is so amazing today.” That attitude is what Reddy brings to Baylor Scott & White’s digital and innovative approach to health care. The largest nonprofit healthcare system in Texas and one of the largest in the country, Baylor Scott & White uses technology to give patients the highest level of convenience and choices available, offering services such as online booking and video visits. The innovation team is creating Artificial Intelligence platforms that can serve as a resource for doctors, using algorithms to help mine data to make evidence-based decisions about a patient’s health.
Dr. Chris Beevers, director of the Institute for Mental Health Research at UT, is spearheading two projects aimed at improving the treatment of mental health. The first is a web-based intervention, “similar to a mini-course online,” in which those seeking treatment can learn many of the cognitive behavioral principles shown to be effective in a clinic. The other phase of his research involves creating machine-learning models—essentially offshoots of Artificial Intelligence—to predict who is most likely to respond to the treatment, the idea being that not everyone who participates will respond or get better. Explains Beevers: “If we can identify people from the outset who are especially likely to benefit, we can steer them towards [the web-based intervention] and direct others who might not benefit towards other treatment.”
Dr. Michael Moossy is running what he calls a “modern-day dental practice”—there’s no paper. Everything, from charting to X-rays, has been digitalized. “We’re not a clinic,” explains Dr. Moossy of his practice. “We get to know each and every patient.” Cutting-edge technologies in dentistry offer a more personal and customized experience. By using extraoral and intraoral cameras (the intraoral camera is like a tiny wand), Dr. Moossy is able to show patients exactly where their issues are and prioritize by “fixing the worst first.” 4200 N. Lamar Blvd., Ste. 145, 512-459-5437
In addition to research and clinical studies lead by Dr. Daniel Friedmann—which range from studying the treatment of aging hands to stretch marks—Westlake Dermatology incorporates the newest dermatological and plastic surgery technologies into its practice. Dr. Greg Nikolaidis focuses on innovations he thinks will resonate with the Austin market, like the newly released injectable lip treatment, Volbella. A very fine filler designed to give patients more definition around the lips, Volbella lasts longer, and, explains Dr. Nikolaidis, “is really subtle... it has a natural aesthetic.” Multiple locations
Only in Austin would one of the owners of an iconic music venue—Antone’s—also be one of the world’s leading geneticists. Spencer Wells played a major role in kicking off the consumer genealogy trend (think 23andMe) as the former director and founder of the Genographic Project at the National Geographic Society. “The first day we launched, we sold 10,000 kits” remembers Wells. While the industry has expanded rapidly, Wells is looking to make genetic testing even more accessible and “take it mainstream” with his new upcoming Austin-based startup, Insitome. Through a partnership with Helix—a company in the process of building “an app store” for genetics—Wells is hoping to help consumers discover information not only about their health in a clinical sense through their genome sequencing, but also learn ways to enrich their overall wellness.
In a city full of tattoo parlors, Austin is also leading the charge in tattoo removal. Dave McKenzie is a big part of that—he uses the most advanced tattoo removal technology in the world: a PicoSure laser. The laser pulses much more quickly than older technology and uses less heat, meaning it’s more effective—requiring half as many treatment sessions—and less painful. McKenzie has begun using the laser on sunspots as well. “The laser is too darn good to pass up what we can do with it,” explains McKenzie. 6911 Ranch Road 620 N., Ste. B201, 512-551-8418
“The number one reason people refuse to get colonoscopies,” explains Dr. Bruce Levy, “is prep.” Austin HyGIeaCare Center, which opened in the past year, was designed to change that. Working with Dr. Gavriel Meron, Levy, CEO of Austin Gastroenterology and Austin Endoscopy Centers, pioneered a same-day prep procedure featuring a tiny swallowable camera and an FDA-approved machine that allows for pre-colonoscopy cleaning that only takes 40 minutes. “It’s much easier on the patient,” Dr. Levy explains. “They don’t lose sleep; they don’t have to miss work.” 8015 Shoal Creek Blvd., Ste. 111, 512-368-8357
Austin is infamous for its year-round allergy seasons, so allergist Dr. Ronald Cox uses technology to help his patients fight back. His offices are stocked with iPads featuring a program by ContextMedia Health to better inform each patient about their specific treatment. Coming just for an allergy shot? You’ll check-in with the innovative tool Rosche, which identifies who you are and green-lights you into the shot room, helping to increase patient safety. 6611 River Place Blvd., Ste. 305, 937-321-6018
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALICE-PHOTO; BY LUCKYBUSINESS (MOUTH); BY SHUTTERSTOCK (TREATMENT)