UNTHSC and Quest Diagnostics announce collaboration to accelerate health care research

January 21, 2020

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UNT Health Science Center and Quest Diagnostics, the world’s leading provider of diagnostic information services, have formed a unique collaboration that converges data, research and technologies to help improve prevention and treatment for individuals at high-risk for preventable diseases, such as diabetes and chronic kidney disease.

UNTHSC and Quest will focus on spearheading novel techniques for population health management, which refers to strategies to improve health care and lower costs for certain populations of individuals who share certain traits, such as risk factors for, or diagnosis of, a type of disease. Many diseases — diabetes, chronic kidney disease and even certain cancers — may be prevented with early diagnosis and intervention.

Quest has successfully employed population health techniques on behalf of large self-insured employers and its own 60,000 employees and plan members to identify at-risk individuals, through analysis of laboratory data, and direct them to care, helping to supporting more favorable outcomes and preventing more aggressive, and costly to treat, disease.

The collaboration will be officially unveiled at the 2020 Population Health Conference Jan. 22 at the UNTHSC. The event will feature speakers from innovative health-related companies discussing ways health care providers, employers and policy makers can use population health management techniques and technologies to improve health care and lower medical costs.

“Health care is the one of the last industries that has yet to be truly disrupted by technology,” said Dr. Michael R. Williams, UNTHSC President. “However, new technologies have the potential to completely change the way we prevent, diagnose and treat diseases.

“By combining the strengths and expertise of UNTHSC and Quest Diagnostics, we will explore new strategies and technologies to transform health care and help people lead healthier, fuller lives,” Dr. Williams said.

Jay G. Wohlgemuth, MD, Chief Medical Officer and Senior Vice President, Research & Development and Medical, Quest Diagnostics, said, “Population health data can help us identify health trends and illuminate disease risk in early treatable stages.

“But population health is about more than detecting people at risk,” he said. “Our collaboration with UNTHSC will seek not only to identify at-risk individuals based on diagnostic insights but also to engage them with care interventions that will ultimately reduce those risks.”

Quest Diagnostics develops and offers laboratory test services used by one in two health systems and physicians in the United States each year to aid the detection, monitoring and treatment selection for patients with diseases ranging from heart disease to cancer. With 150 million patient interactions a year, Quest has an extensive database of privacy-protected clinical lab results from which population health insights can be gleaned to improve health care management.

UNTHSC, with six graduate colleges and $45.4 million in annual research expenditures, emphasizes innovation, entrepreneurship and population health to improve therapeutic interventions and patient experiences. The institution will serve as an accelerator to assist Quest Diagnostics in the development of strategies, interventions and pilot programs that benefit certain patient populations, and to scale those initiatives nationally.

Exposure to innovative population health strategies will help prepare UNTHSC students to be future health care leaders, and benefit patients and clinicians at UNT Health, the University’s clinical arm. UNTHSC health care clinics have 120,000 patient encounters annually. Quest maintains a patient service center on campus that will act as a demonstration site for students to explore disruptive models of care.

Accelerating Improvements

An example of a patient population is people with diabetes, which affects more than 30 million people in the United States, UNTHSC Provost Dr. Charles Taylor said. Too often, treatment focuses narrowly on the best insulin regimen or medication for patients without factoring in other determinants like social factors, nutrition and lifestyle.

“A population health approach wraps data and innovation into a more holistic approach from providers that allows patients to make easier, more thoughtful decisions,” Dr. Taylor said. “That could mean virtual health where patients could be anywhere and still connect quickly with a provider on their smart phones. The possibilities are endless.”

The collaboration will consider ways to leverage Quest’s national infrastructure and reach to patients and physicians to direct at-risk individuals to care. Quest operates 2,250 patient service centers, as well as at-home care services, and connects with nearly 9 million patients through the myQuest mobile app.

“The bottom line is the U.S. health care system leaves too many individuals disconnected from care,” Dr. Wohlgemuth said. “While employers and tax-payers bear the brunt of these costs, the real tragedy is the lives that could have been saved with early intervention.”

“We are thrilled with the opportunity to team with UNTHSC to explore potentially disruptive approaches that can upend these challenges so more people lead healthy lives.”

Six in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic disease, like heart disease and strokecancer, or diabetes. These and other chronic diseases are the leading causes of death and disability in America, and they are also a leading driver of health care costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many risk factors for these diseases can be caught with laboratory tests and addressed in early stages through behavioral changes or medical interventions.

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