Staff Writer-Austin Business Journal
As I’ve leaned into health care coverage in Austin during the past nine months, there’s been no mistaking what the biggest issue is to doctors, hospital executives and the public. No, I’m not talking about the Affordable Care Act, despite its overarching impact on the medical sector.
Pretty much everyone agrees the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School will have a transformative effect on the university and Austin as a whole. After all, in a state with an acute shortage of physicians, graduating 50 more each year later in this decade will ease the burden on patients and more experienced health care providers.
The medical school also has the potential to transform the area’s business climate, starting with the world-class medical research that will be conducted by university staff and students. Much of that research will be encouraged and funded through partnerships with life sciences companies.
Austin has a bubbling biotech and medical device sector, but it’s nowhere close to matching the size of the information technology industry here that’s brought about the city’s “Silicon Hills” nickname.
Industry partnerships through the medical school have the potential to supersize Austin’s life science segment, so much so that local business and political leaders are looking at the clusters of businesses formed around MIT and Harvard medical facilities and studying their growth to prepare for what Austin could be in for.
The area around 15th and Trinity streets — essentially across the street from the medical school campus — is the most likely spot for this “innovation district.” Meanwhile, Seton Healthcare Family is hard at work on a new research and development department that will try to marry academic research projects with both startups and international players such as Pfizer and Upjohn.
Nothing is inevitable. But veteran leaders in health care say the pieces are here to turn Austin into a life sciences business hub. That means along with improving patient outcomes, the medical school could play a big part in helping diversify the local economy and improve its health, too.