Texas Medical Center CEO: Collaboration will drive healthcare industry forward

Many healthcare executives struggle to get a variety of stakeholders to come to the table and adopt a common set of goals, but Texas Medical Center CEO Robert Robbins, M.D., takes on that familiar task on a far greater scale--and he must do so in a city that faces its own health crisis.

The former heart surgeon's primary challenge is to "promote, inspire and incentivize" the health system's 56 diverse institutions--many of which have grown accustomed to competing with one another--to work together, Robbins (pictured right) told attendees at the Oracle Industry Connect conference at the Washington Hilton in the District of Columbia on Wednesday.

Specifically when it comes to ambitious efforts such as the use of genomics in precision medicine, "the future is going to be collaborative efforts," he said. "No one institution is going to be able to do this on their own."

Texas Medical Center is the world's largest medical complex and boasts a staggering $20 billion combined operating budget, Robbins said, so it stands to reason that it also has grand goals for future development. Not only does the organization plan to become the "world's premier program" in genomics, he said, but it also plans to drive developments in clinical research. To that end, Robbins plans to winnow down the system's multiple institutional review board panels to one central panel in order to speed up and pool data from clinical trials.

The health system also has invested heavily in life sciences innovation and commercialization, Robbins said. Its "Innovation Institute" acts as an incubator for startup companies, and its planned "Life Sciences Cluster" will act as the city center for innovation amid its sprawling base in Houston, Robbins said.

But the organization's ambitious expansion and research goals stand in stark contrast to the health challenges that characterize Houston and the rest of the state. As Robbins put it: "In the shadows of all the things that I'm showing you, there's abject poverty and no healthcare."

Not only is Houston one of the country's most unhealthy cities, but 30 percent of the city's population lacks health coverage, in part because the state has refused to expand Medicaid, Robbins said, acknowledging that it's "not going to happen in Texas."

Texas Medical Center is doing its part to address these disparities by working with the Clinton Foundation and General Electric on a five-year campaign to make Houston healthier.

 "We're working very hard to … come out from behind the glistening buildings and great wealth and work hard to try to improve the health of Houston," Robbins said.

Its goals also align with the overall direction of the healthcare sector in that it plans to increase efficiency--part of why he wants to increase collaboration among all the system's institutions--and focus on value and quality, Robbins said. And he thinks strong, determined leadership will help the organization achieve these goals.

"Just remember, I'm a heart surgeon--often wrong, but never in doubt," he said.