Cutting-Edge Technology to Transform Care Delivery
Physician-researchers at the Musculoskeletal Institute utilize Bluetooth-enabled technology to inform patient care and improve health outcomes
Reviewed by: Karl Koenig, MD, MS
Written by: Lauren Schneider
Physician-researchers at UT Health Austin’s Musculoskeletal Institute are evaluating how their model of team-based care delivery compares to traditional approaches in treating hip and knee osteoarthritis, a common condition resulting from wear and tear to the joints of the hip and knee. Through a collaboration with researchers at UT Health San Antonio that is funded by the Bass Family Foundation, the project utilizes Bluetooth-enabled wearable technology to track the time providers spend performing different aspects of a patient’s care.
“A large part of the spending associated with care delivery includes personnel costs related to a practitioner’s time with a patient, but existing accounting systems are unable to measure these costs accurately,” explains board-certified orthopedic surgeon Karl Koenig, MD, who serves as Executive Director of UT Health Austin’s Musculoskeletal Institute. “By using wearable technology, we can quantify this time in a detailed way, allowing us to assess the actual cost of delivering a service more accurately in comparison to the value and outcomes that it provides.”
Led by Prakash Jayakumar, MD, PhD, the Director of Clinical Research and Outcome Measurement for the Dell Medical School Department of Surgery and Perioperative Care, researchers will compare health outcomes associated with the Musculoskeletal Institute’s model to those achieved by the team at UT Health San Antonio, which will represent more traditional care delivery practices.
“Our primary goal is to determine whether our model is a more efficient way to deliver care to patients,” says Dr. Koenig.
A Team United Around You
The Musculoskeletal Institute employs a multidisciplinary approach to patient care. “We intentionally designed our care team with an integrated approach to health in mind,” notes Dr. Koenig. “We consider the preferences, values, and goals that our patients are trying to achieve and determine how we can deliver care in that context. Rather than treating the hip or knee problem in isolation, we want to help patients get and stay healthy.”
A patient who comes to the Musculoskeletal Institute for hip or knee osteoarthritis or any other condition meets with a team of specialists that have been selected to help address their individual needs. In addition to orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists, this team may include dietitians, social workers, and more. This care team works together with the patient throughout their entire treatment journey.
“The multidisciplinary care model orients the healthcare delivery system around a single condition or set of conditions, allowing a patient to have access to all of the evidence-based treatments for that condition through one team,” says Dr. Koenig, who anticipates that involving additional specialists, such as physical therapists, in a patient’s case early on will be more time-efficient and cost-effective in the long run.
This multidisciplinary approach to patient care has previously been applied to complex conditions, such as cancer, and this research will evaluate the benefits of this model in treating more common ailments. “We chose to focus, first, on osteoarthritis of the hip and knee because it has a very high impact from a population health perspective, meaning it has a significant effect on the quality of life of a large number of people,” explains Dr. Koenig.
A Framework for Future Collaboration
The Musculoskeletal Institute is hoping to further validate its care delivery model through this rigorous study involving two research sites affiliated with The University of Texas System. “Given that the team at UT Health San Antonio is also part of this statewide academic network, we have been exploring opportunities to collaborate for the past few years,” says Dr. Koenig.
The current project involving Bluetooth technology launched in 2021. As did many others at the time, the researchers faced supply chain issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in shipment delays of device hardware. Once these logistical challenges were overcome, the two research teams hit the ground running, recruiting participants and meeting regularly to coordinate their experimental approach.
“We have enrolled over 250 patients between our two research sites and are already making great progress with the project,” shares Dr. Koenig. “We look forward to gathering our longer-term outcome data over the next year and analyzing all the data we have collected.”
Once the three-year study is complete, Dr. Koenig foresees continued collaboration efforts with the team at UT Health San Antonio. “This project has played a crucial role in forging a connection between our two institutions that will allow us to partner on future research endeavors,” says Dr. Koenig. “We plan to build on this research by expanding from hip and knee osteoarthritis treatment to other musculoskeletal conditions.”
Dr. Koenig hopes these findings transform musculoskeletal care delivery by making treatment more efficient for both patients and providers. “Applying our coordinated care model to these high-impact conditions presents a huge opportunity to save time and resources while maintaining the highest standard of patient care,” shares Dr. Koenig.