Dell Medical School’s new department hopes to improve diagnostic testing

Stephanie Adeline

The first step in providing successful medical care is making the proper diagnosis, and the Dell Medical School’s new Department of Diagnostic Medicine aims to ensure this critical step is taken more often than not.

“It is our responsibility to perform the most appropriate test at the right time on the patient and (to get) those results back to the patient and the referring doctors,” department chair Dr. R. Nick Bryan said.

The department launched in early November and hopes to bring innovative approaches to diagnostic testing through the integration of pathology, radiology and laboratory medicine — disciplines which are often separated into three different departments at most other medical schools, according to a press release.

This integration is made possible by the department’s collaboration with local health care partners such as the Austin Radiological Association and Clinical Pathology Association, Bryan said.

Dr. C. Martin Harris, chief business officer of the Dell Medical School, said the department works very closely with physicians in the community, which can lower the cost of health care.

“In many other medical schools, they have gone out and built those departments independent of what other resources are available in the community,” Harris said. “We can take advantage of the great resources that already exist here in Austin … The effect of that is (that) it will also hold down health care costs, because we didn’t double the number of physicians provided in that service.”

Harris said the department’s collaboration is proof of the success to be had when academic clinicians and community physicians work together.

The new department will help physicians to make the right predictions after diagnosis is made, said Anna Sorace, an assistant professor in the department. The department will use methods that allow physicians to predict the right treatment early on. For example, Sorace said she is currently working on research that evaluates quantitative MRI techniques to improve the chances of correctly predicting a breast cancer patient’s response to chemotherapy.

“The idea is, if we can predict biological changes … in the future, it would allow us to change the therapeutic strategy if a patient is not going to respond positively to that treatment, and it would save us time, money, health (and would) reduce systemic toxicity from treatments that may not be potentially effective,” Sorace said.

Dr. Jonathan MacClements, associate dean of graduate medical education, said in an email that the diagnostics department will train physicians to be innovative.

“These programs will train physicians who are ready to find new ways to diagnose diseases,” MacClements said. “It will create leaders who can disseminate knowledge in the medical community.”