North Texas Healthcare Innovation: Fighting Fungus, Sharing Data, Virtual Reality, and Radio Therapy

The North Texas healthcare market is constantly changing and innovating, bringing original ideas, techniques, and technology to patients in the region. We decided to check in with a startup, a nonprofit, a provider and an academic institution who are on the leading edge of healthcare innovation, and they told us about the latest procedures, techniques, software, and technology making a difference for patients.

Fighting Fungal Infections

At Healthcare accelerator Health Wildcatters, startup MycoDART is hoping to save lives with a test that can better diagnose fungal infections. When patients are in the hospitals and their immune system is suppressed, they are more likely to develop sepsis or another fungal infection, which can be deadly.

The current standard is to test the blood for the presence of a fungus, and if one is found, the patient is treated with a broad spectrum of anti-fungal treatments, which are expensive. “They treat for a lot of things and hope they get the right one covered,” says Dave Murcott, founder of MycoDART.

MycoDART is a DNA test that can identify the six most common types of fungus and results return from the lab in hours, rather than the days that it used to take. The patient can be given medicine that targets a specific fungus rather than the more harmful (and expensive) broad fungal treatment. The test is processed in Real Time Laboratories, where Murcott is also CEO.

MycoDART stands for Mycology Dual Amplification Realtime, and looks to be a winner for patients, providers, and payers in the healthcare industry. The time it saves will improve care and reduce cost, while the more specific diagnosis will also save costs and lives.

“We have a very aggressive growth plan, with top line revenue at $118 million by year 5,” Murcott says. “We will enroll hospitals with thousands of patients and test hundreds. The revenue model scales up fast. We have six hospitals in year one.”

A Network of Shared Health Data 

At the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation, a nonprofit healthcare analytics research and development organization, they are using data to coordinate services in the community and improve outcomes for patients. PCCI’s Connected Communities of Care program “operates on the premise that health begins where we live learn work and play,” says CEO Dr. Steve Miff.

The program uses predictive and prescriptive analytics and artificial intelligence to connect and align healthcare and community services. PCCI built a system with over 100 community organizations, from the food bank to the healthcare providers, where they can exchange information about patients and community members that utilize the services.

If a food-insecure individual is treated for diabetes at the hospital and then heads to the food bank, relevant medical information is shared with the food bank so they can tailor the meals to the patient’s condition. In addition, if there is a social worker or other community volunteer that has a closer relationship to the patient, the shared information allows the volunteer to remind the patient of upcoming appointments and help plan for transportation if necessary.

PCCI hopes to screen 75,000 individuals into the cloud-based software each year. Parkland Hospital, the North Texas Food Bank, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, and Unlocking Doors, a reentry resource network for former offenders, are all in the Connected Communities of Care network.

“We design and deploy programs that address individual and community health and social determinants,” Miff says.

Virtual Reality Pain Relief

Leah Miller, the Chief Innovation Officer at Medical City, highlighted three innovations improving care for patients. First, she described how virtual reality is being used to treat pain. Patients have the option of replacing pain medication by wearing a virtual reality headset with meditative and calm scenes that can distract patients from their pain. According to Miller, 30 percent of patients said it impacted their pain, while 70 percent said it reduced anxiety. As of now, they have been used during Labor and Delivery, but Miller says it should expand to Medical City’s children’s hospital later this year.

Miller also described a process where artificial intelligence is being used to prevent sepsis. The Medical City system leverages its data from HCA’s 170 hospitals over the last 20 years to use algorithms to analyze patient data and determine whether they are at risk of sepsis, moving the diagnosis and treatment up 18 hours. Miller says the testing has saved 5500 lives over the last three years.

Lastly, Miller discussed Medical City’s Virtual Care system, where patients with low acuity can enter their symptoms and learn whether they need to head to an urgent care or emergency facility, escalate to a video or phone chat with a physician, or go pick up a prescription for a simple medical condition. The process will help simplify the process for consumers and reduce costs.

Targeted Radio Therapy 

At UT Southwestern, we spoke with Dr. Robert Timmerman, Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, who told us about how targeted radiation is changing the way cancer is treated. For nearly 100 years, radiation has been used to treat cancer, but while it kills cancer cells, it also destroys healthy cells in the body.

Previously, small amounts of radiation were delivered over a series of weeks, but the side effects were significant. In the 1990s, digital imaging improved and allowed physicians to better target the tumors and see how they moved and changed over time. Radiation was often used to take care of the more difficult to see bits of cancer cells after surgery removed the easy to find tumors.

Focused radiation is often used today in place of surgery, as its focus and power have increased. For patients who are too frail for surgery, Stereotactic Ablative Radio Therapy reduces side effects and greatly reduces the number of hospital visits for cancer treatment. What was once six or seven weeks of treatment can now be five or so outpatient visits. Because there are fewer visits, this treatment is much cheaper than traditional radio therapy.

These days, there has been a dramatic shift in how radio therapy is used to get rid of tumors, Timmerman says. “Treatment used to look more like a shotgun, but now it is more like a bullet. There is less collateral image.”