Dell Medical School, City of Austin collaborate to improve community health

Sami Sparber

A new partnership between the Dell Medical School and the City of Austin’s Open Data Team will bridge the gap between data gatherers and medical researchers in the city, with the aims of improving the health of the community.

Dell Med researchers will draw from Austin’s Open Data Portal, which makes data sets collected by the city available to the public. The data sets will be used to better understand Austin’s population, said Anjum Khurshid, chief of data integration at Dell Med’s Department of Population Health.

“The mission of Dell Med is to improve the health of the community and our population, and we need good data in order to fulfill that mission,” Khurshid said. “Therefore, it was obvious to us that the City’s Open Data Initiative aligned really well with our mission.”

Khurshid said the data collected and published by the open data team will be instrumental in addressing health-related factors that doctors alone cannot measure.

“One project we’re looking into is how to improve asthma management in children,” Khurshid said. “While one piece of the puzzle is strictly medical, the other piece often involves social influencers, such as the patient’s quality of air and what activities they’re involved in. That’s where the Open Data Portal comes in.”

The city launched the Open Data Portal in 2011 as a way to promote government transparency. Data includes subjects from crime reports to housing affordability.

“Open data is a critical part of the City of Austin’s strategic plan,” said Stephen Elkins, the City’s chief information officer, in a statement. “But it is not enough to simply provide access to open data. Through collaborations, like our partnership with Dell Medical School, we are leveraging data to improve health outcomes for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.”

The City’s data architect Ted Lehr said the open data team plans to use Dell Med researchers’ findings to better inform its policy making and day-to-day operations.

“The hope is that we use the research to inform not only Austin’s policies, but also policies around the country and around the world,” Lehr said. “But first, we have to get it right here, in the City of Austin.”

Lehr said the open data team looks forward to exchanging information with Dell Med in a mutually beneficial partnership.

“The City of Austin is in a very unusual position to have a medical school in town that focuses on improving population health,” Lehr said. “We weren’t going to let that go to waste.”