Health technology

UT med school hires Austin entrepreneur to attract startups, investors

Posted February 29th, 2016

Leaders at the University of Texas Dell Medical School hope to transform the way health care is paid for and delivered.

 

On Monday, the school announced it has hired longtime Austin entrepreneur and investor Mellie Price to help bring digital-health technologies and other medical technologies along for the ride. 

 

Price, a longtime Austin entrepreneur and one of the founding investors and partners at the Capital Factory incubator, will join the school as executive director of technology innovation. 

 

In the new role, she will help identify, attract, test, fund and develop technologies designed to work within the new health care delivery platforms that the medical school’s leaders are trying to pioneer. 

 

“Bringing someone like Mellie into an academic medical center milieu is quite groundbreaking,” said Mini Kahlon, the school’s vice dean for strategy and partnerships. “She’s not just a technology innovator, but a business leader — someone who’s thinking about the platforms, both technical and business, that advance innovation in health care.” 

 

There’s no shortage of new medical devices, apps and ideas, Kahlon said. But entrepreneurs and developers who design products for new models of care delivery have only the existing platforms in which to test and develop them. 

 

“We’re creating these new models of care,” Kahlon said, “so those become really valuable settings to evaluate new health technologies that are truly disruptive.” 

 

Among their many goals, school officials hope to develop a health care system that rewards doctors for their patients’ care, recovery and wellbeing, rather than merely paying them by the procedure or service. 

 

Medicare, for example, has already shifted more toward this model for some joint replacements, Kahlon said. While before it would pay hospitals for a hip replacement surgery itself, she said, it now looks at a patient’s outcomes over a three-month period. 

 

“So now hospitals have to worry about what happens in the home, which they should’ve been worried about all along but weren’t because they weren’t paid for it,” she said. 

 

That creates a range of opportunities for new technologies, everything from devices that help prevent falls to apps that facilitate daily feedback between a patient and doctor. 

 

To build on those opportunities, Kahlon said, the school hoped to find someone with both local and national connections. She said they did so with Price. 

 

In her new role, Price will help identify and attract the entrepreneurs and technologies that fit these emerging models of care. The school will co-innovate and co-invest, she said, with the new technologies potentially shaping the developing care platforms as much as the platforms shape the technologies. 

 

Locally, Price might be best known for Front Gate Solutions, an online ticket-purchasing company she founded in 2003 as an alternative to Ticketmaster and other large companies. It was acquired last year by Live Nation. 

 

“My personal goal was to pick an industry where I felt I could make meaningful change,” she said. “I’m at that point in my career where I can go do something crazy like this.” 

 

While Price has experience advising and working with health care startups, she said it might seem counterintuitive to bring in someone with an information technology and entertainment background. But in many ways, the Internet’s transformation of the music, television and movie industries parallels the changes that are starting to sweep through parts of the U.S. health care system. 

 

“I’ve been at the center of both the good and the bad of technology and innovation changing the way ecosystems do business,” she said. The medical school and its regional partners “have a huge opportunity to influence the future of health care and be the center of digital health.” 

 

Austin has the collaborative and entrepreneurial environment to foster those changes, Price said. But as with any budding technology, someone has to take the risks inherent in taking ideas to the market. That means finding investors and entrepreneurs who are willing to accept what might be an unusually long development process — one that can depend on transformation of the health care payments as a whole. 

 

“That for me is part of the reason I want to be on the Dell Medical team,” Price said. “They’re in a position to negotiate and navigate the payment side of it, as well as creating a fast track that enables early stage digital-health companies to have an opportunity to interact with the health care ecosystem.”

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