Teen mental health, asthma data projects earn Dell Foundation grants

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has given new grants toward two projects at the University of Texas Dell Medical School. One will seek to create better ways to transition teens from pediatric to adult mental health care, and the other will focus on creating a database to give physicians better information about environmental and social factors that affect their patients.

The $623,000 grant for the Center for Youth Mental Health will fund pilot projects to improve mental health care for people ages 15 to 25. Dr. Stephen Strakowski, psychiatry chair at the medical school, said this age group is key because it is when many symptoms for depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder begin to show. It’s also an age when people are trying to find their independence. In this age range, he said, “60 to 80 percent drop out of care.”

“We’re looking for creative ways to change how we manage 15- to 25-year-olds who struggle with mental health issues,” he said.

The problem of transitioning from pediatric care to adult care is not unique to mental health, Strakowski said. It happens with other illnesses, too, and doctors are not trained in adolescence. They are trained in pediatric or adult care, but not this very different in-between stage.

Eighteen, he said, is an artificial boundary between childhood and adulthood.

“At 17 they are treated like they are 11 or 12; at 18, they are treated like they are 40,” Strakowski said.

The hope is the knowledge gained in mental health care can be applied to other specialties.

Monday is the deadline for submission of proposals for this round of funding; another round will happen in the fall. The funding will continue for two years, and then Strakowski hopes to develop new programs by applying for a grant through the National Institutes of Health.

A $340,000 grant will help build a database to provide doctors access to social, behavioral and environmental data that is influencing a patient’s health.

Dr. Anjum Khurshid, director of data integration and an assistant professor in the population health department, is looking specifically at what information doctors at People’s Community Clinic would like to have access to when managing pediatric asthma. Could information about the pollen count pop up in the medical records of patients with a known pollen allergy? Could doctors be given information on ozone levels for patients living close to Interstate 35 or MoPac Boulevard? If a patient lives with a smoker and the provider was made aware of that, would that change the course of treatment?

Those social, environmental and behavioral factors, he said, determine 80 percent of a patient’s outcome. “Only 15 percent to 20 percent is what we do in clinical settings,” he said.

“One of the challenges is how do we bring the data to the providers,” Khurshid said.

While this grant is studying pediatric asthma patients, what it develops could cross many specialties.

Khurshid is working with providers to cater to how they access the information. He knows they want the information to be integrated with the medical records system they are using already.

Khurshid will create and implement the database in about 18 months. “It will show us the right way, and then it will be about scaling it up,” Khurshid said.

Since Dell Medical School opened to its first class in 2016, it has focused on being patient-centered and on health and wellness and preventative care.

“This is a big part of the Dell Med mission — creating incubators and think tanks,” Strakowski said, with an emphasis on rethinking the way medical care is delivered.

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