The Health Care Initiative: Connecting, debating and discussing

What is the health care gap and how is the medical community closing it? As home to the world's largest medical center, Houston has the opportunity to be at the forefront in addressing those questions — and answering them. On May 12, four speakers enthusiastic about innovation shared perspectives and innovative solutions in their respective fields during the symposium, Closing the Health Care Gap: Innovating. Redesigning. Inventing, sponsored by the Jones Graduate School of Business' Health Care Initiative.

Dr. Donald Berry
Professor, Department of Biostatistics
MD Anderson Cancer Center

Emma Fauss, PhD, MBA
Chief Executive Officer
Medical Informatics Corp
Kelly L. (Karau) Piacsek, Ph.D
Vice President & General Manager 
GE Healthcare Global Research
Dr. Kirsten Ostherr
Professor of English, Rice University
Director of Medical Futures Lab,
Rice University/UT Health/
Baylor College of Medicine

Prashant Kale, associate professor of strategic management and head of the health care initiative, added, "These events build a rich and vibrant environment and are a component of the initiative with high touch outcomes for audiences, speakers and the school. We are trying to engage with the community and create a platform to connect, debate and discuss."

Precision Medicine

"When I give talks about innovation," said Dr. Donald Berry, professor in the Department of Biostatistics at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, "usually I'm talking to cancer researchers about therapeutic advances. Radical stuff." Berry has designed and supervised breast cancer trials. A principal focus of his research is the use of biomarkers to learn which patients benefit from which therapies.

"Biology is moving like lightening, but clinical trials are mired in the past." And — as co-owner of Berry Consultants, a company that helps design clinical trials — he would know. In the meantime, the demand to bring clinical trials into the future has begun and Berry's work is front and center. 

Real-time Analytics

Emma Fauss, a Rice MBA '13, Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering, and CEO of Medical Informatics Corp, declared, "The current gaps in health care are technological."

From work flow, care team communications, patient surveillance and tracking to analytics capabilities and decision support, the technological gaps can mean life or death. "Medical Informatics wanted to come in and fill that gap," Fauss said. The company's case study with Texas Children's Hospital tackled alarm management for 36 beds in the ICU. "There is a constant onslaught of alarms, creating alarm fatigue. The software tool helped medical staff assess the alarm's frequency, what its purpose was and how to adjust it." At TCH they were able to reduce alarms over six months.

"Innovation in health care is not easy," Fauss said. "Advanced patient-specific analytics is the logical next step. Taking the data that's already there and helping to improve patient outcomes."

Innovation in Global Research

As vice president and general manager of Healthcare Global Research at GE with a Ph.D. in functional imaging, Kelly Piacsek oversees clinical evidence generation, the adoption of innovative health care technologies, new product introductions, and safe and effective product use. When a person like Piacsek, who holds 16 patents, says, "We have a need for health care innovation," audiences listen.

GE spends almost $1 billion on research and development. "We are very product focused," Piacsek said. "Our goal has been to evolve into a solutions company." GE is transitioning to a reverse innovation company. "We're doing it because that's what the world needs from us."

Physicians Embracing Innovation

Kirsten Ostherr, a Rice University professor of English and media scholar specializing in health and medical visualizations, posed this question: how do you inspire physicians to embrace innovation? As director of Medical Futures Lab, a collaborative center linking Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine and UT Health to train the medical media innovators of the future, Ostherr brings together creative minds for hands-on critical thinking and design.

She presented examples of how x-rays, 16mm film, television and the Internet have trained both physicians and patients to see and understand health and disease. Innovation has often been met with deep skepticism, but Ostherr's working on that and other key issues of translation and culture.

Defining the health care gap is different for different communities. Binata Mukherjee, director of the health care initiative, said the health care symposia schedule — three a year — "allows the school to showcase not only its commitment to the medical community and the health care space but to our students and their futures." The health care initiative at the Jones School is taking discussions about health care to the next level.

To learn more about the health care initiative at the Jones School, visit