UT Health Austin opens first clinics in $99 million project

University of Texas Health Austin will open the Dell Medical School’s Health Transformation Building on Tuesday with four specialty clinics. Patients now will be able to receive care for gynecological disorders in the Women’s Health Institute, arm and leg pain in the Musculoskeletal Institute, multiple sclerosis and back pain in the Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences, and work-related illnesses in the WorkLife clinic.

Opening the new building is the second phase of building UT Health Austin, which started with the medical school accepting its first class in June 2016 and will continue with more clinics opening in the Health Transformation Building, followed by building a center for research. All three — the medical school, the clinics and the research facility — work alongside Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas, which opened in May.

The UT System has spent $99 million on opening the Health Transformation Building, including construction and equipment.

Although the clinics will start with their first 20 patients Tuesday, the neurosciences and musculoskeletal clinics could treat up to 80 patients a day, and the women’s health clinic could handle about 30 a day. UT Health Austin staff members aren’t sure yet how many will be seen a day in the WorkLife clinic. The clinics will be open to any resident of Travis County, regardless of income or insurance. Patients can get a referral or make an appointment without a referral.

When patients enter a clinic, they meet with a concierge, who will help check them in, go over any paperwork and give out passes similar to an airplane boarding pass. The pass has the floor, hall and room number to which the patient is assigned. It has information on connecting to Wi-Fi and how to contact the help desk if needed. The pass also includes this information: “Make yourself comfortable. It’s your room. You can adjust the lights, put away your things and sit wherever you like.”

The clinics are trying to provide “a more calming experience,” said Charu Juneja, the director of business and behavior design at the Design Institute for Health at Dell Medical School and the College of Fine Arts.

The pass is one indication of UT Health Austin’s philosophy of creating a patient experience that is centered on the patient rather than the providers.

The staff at UT Health Austin thought about all the things patients hate about seeing a doctor, said Dr. Stuart Wolf, professor and associate chair for surgery and preoperative care at Dell Medical School. One thing patients hate is sitting in a waiting room, he said, so UT Health Austin eliminated the waiting room.

Each of the patient rooms has an electronic screen that shows pictures and names of the providers patients will see. The rooms also have exam tables set up like chairs for comfort, places for patients to put things and additional chairs for family members. Family members also can go to a lounge area down the main hall or meet in a family consultation room.

Each patient room has two doors, one for patients and one for providers. The providers — nurses, doctors and Dell Medical School students — work in a bullpen in the middle of 10 patient rooms. Patients can see multiple doctors and nurses in one visit, with providers coming to them instead of patients going to multiple doctors’ offices.

The design helps providers communicate better with one another. They will meet as a team to discuss patients before patients arrive.

“This is going to improve patient care,” said Amy Papermaster, a nurse practitioner in the Women’s Health Institute. “I’ve already seen it in the pilot program.”

This summer, Dell Medical School conducted a pilot project at a CommUnityCare clinic for women with pelvic floor disorders, to help develop the care plan for the Women’s Health Institute.

One of the goals for UT Health Austin is to change patient outcomes.

“In general, providers are paid for what they do, not what they achieve with the patient,” Wolf said, but at the medical school and with the clinic, doctors are being trained to focus on outcomes. Wolf sees clinic providers as working “in concert with the patients. It’s about them.” 

That could mean providers do fewer procedures, Wolf said, saving money for patients and the health system. Patients will be surveyed and data will be collected about the effectiveness of treatments.

Dr. C. Martin Harris, associate vice president and chief business officer, sees the clinics and the medical school as an opportunity to change health care. UT Health Austin is starting with these four clinics but will open additional clinics based on needs it recognizes in the community. Staffers have already identified some needs and will open clinics for bipolar disorder, cognitive impairment and pain. They are looking at opening two cancer clinics but have not identified which types.

UT Health is making sure it has the right model of care before opening the additional clinics, Harris said, and a model that is documented for improved outcomes.

“We want to create a standard of care that can be replicated,” he said.

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