Spotlight on Mari Robinson, director of telehealth

Jun 20, 2017, 06:15 AM by KirstiAnn Clifford
Mari Robinson and her husband, Greg Ritzen, on vacation at a local winery in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico.Mari Robinson, JD, joined UTMB in October 2016 as director of telehealth. In her role, Robin­son guides UTMB regarding policy and regulatory issues surrounding telehealth and assists in developing partnerships across Texas to expand health care to those in rural and remote areas of the state.

Robinson is currently helping with the coordination and implementation of a statewide tele­medicine network, the UT Virtual Health Network (UT-VHN). The UT-VHN will provide coordinated outbound and inbound support for telemedicine services from all eight of the University of Texas health science centers and medical schools into care settings such as other hospitals and clinics, nursing facilities, schools, employee work sites and patient residences.

Prior to UTMB, Robinson served as executive director of the Texas Medical Board. She spent nearly 16 years with the agency, initially working as a litigation attorney, prosecuting physicians who violated the Medical Practices Act. She also worked as the manager of investigations followed by the enforcement director for the agency, overseeing the Investigation, Litigation and Compliance departments.

Originally from Grand Prairie, Texas, Robinson graduated in 1999 with a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law.

What does Best Care mean to you and how do you contribute?
To me, this means getting patients the highest quality of care in the most efficient manner possible. By helping to expand telemedicine across the state, patients will have access to specialists that they otherwise might not have been able to reach. I love that idea.

The world of telemedicine continues to rapidly evolve. How do you see it being applied in the future?
I think that medical devices will become more portable, more complex, and cheaper, so that in the near future, relevant medical data will be at everyone’s fingertips. We will definitely have to address the potential problem of information overload gathered by all these devices, but the capacity to have such detailed information on a patient can really move health care forward if we can learn how to best use it.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job as director of telehealth? The most rewarding?
The most challenging aspect is that there is a large amount of misinformation about telehealth, and that can be difficult to successfully address. However, if you can address it, you usually gain a willing participant in telemedicine expansion which is pretty rewarding.

You were the first speaker to address UTMB’s new EMERGEx Resource Group, which is focused on advancing a culture of inclusion for the university’s next generation of leaders. Attendees learned that you were quite young when you became executive director of the Texas Medical Board. What advice do you have for other aspiring leaders?
I was 34 when I became executive director. Honestly, I never really thought of my age as much of a factor. While it was definitely the case that almost all of the people I managed were older than me, the same things that were important to them were true of anyone. Employees want to be heard, to be treated fairly and to be able to trust their managers. I tried my best to fill that role.

What was your first job?
This is one that no one ever guesses—I actually worked in a clothing warehouse tagging price tags onto items before they were shipped to stores. This was the summer between high school and college. It was exhausting!

What do you like to do outside of work?
I love food and wine, traveling, reading, and buying shoes—probably in that order.

What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
Probably the fact that for the first year of college, I held a double major. The first major is completely predictable (government) but the second is the surprise—theatre.

What’s something you always wanted to do but have not done yet?
Live in another country. My husband and I have traveled quite a bit, but never for more than three weeks. Right now, a year in Europe with a fully charged train pass sounds pretty perfect.

If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Next on my list is New Zealand. It has wonderful natural beauty, a great culture scene, and of course, good wine.