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Digital Health Done Right at a ‘Most Wired’ Health System

Delaware's Christiana Care, one of the AHA's Most Wired Hospitals, is proving that the mHealth experience focuses on connected care when and where it's needed.

By Eric Wicklund

- One of the nation’s most wired health systems is actually trying to get rid of wires.

The Christiana Care Health System, a Delaware-based network of two hospitals and a broad range of outpatient services and primary care offices, is moving away from the outdated philosophy of seeing a patient only when he or she is sick. The future, says Randy Gaboriault, MS, lies in a digital technology strategy that surrounds every patient and engages when needed.

“Basically, how do you turn the human being into a streaming data device?” muses Gaboriault, the health system’s chief information officer and senior vice president of strategic development. “We’re building all new capabilities into healthcare, and moving from the physical to the digital space.”

Christiana Care’s work with digital health – be it telehealth, mHealth, predictive analytics or whatever other technological catchphrase is in use these days – recently earned the health system a Most Wired Hospital designation from the American Hospital Association, one of 363 around the country to receive the award this year.

But “most wired” doesn’t mean physically wiring everything together like some huge spider web around the patient. To Gaboriault, it means creating a digitally connected care team – he calls them “guardian angels” – that wirelessly gather data on the patient.

That data can come from patient records, pharmacies, devices in the home, wearables and the patient.

“It’s about turning the patient – or the body, really – into a streaming device that allows us to develop precision interventions,” Gaboriault says. And mindful of the fact that one person’s vital signs are different from the next person, those interventions need to be personalized.

The process is especially important for patients with chronic conditions, who Gaboriault says are sorely under-addressed in today’s “sick care” ecosystem.

Healthcare today “is not designed to deal with chronic illness in a community setting,” he says. “How often do these patients get in front of a physician? Not that often. You have to create a new system that wraps around these patients.”

Christiana Care’s digital footprint is evident in several programs, including Care Link and iRound, which harness data from a variety of sources to help clinicians track patient trends, both at home and in the hospital. The eCare virtual ICU program, meanwhile, monitors the health system’s sickest patients and reportedly saved the system almost $10 million over the past year.

The system also combines predictive analytics with wireless monitoring, creating a cardiac telemetry program that reportedly saved almost $5 million.

With the move to outcomes-based healthcare, Gaboriault says the health system has worked hard to define risk. “Moving to risk enables us to completely change the approach to how you manage your patients,” he points out. That means more “touch points” with patients, and an understanding that health systems are now working with patients to define care management, rather than simply telling patients what they need to do to get better.

“This is where healthcare has to learn from the entertainment industry and the Googles of the world,” he says.

As the healthcare landscape continues to change, Gaboriault says Christiana Care will define new opportunities to collaborate with patients. That means mastering the technology so that it doesn’t interfere with patient engagement, and bringing health and wellness into the conversation.

“The new skillset is us being good enough to own the patient interaction,” he says. “We think that’s going to be the model of the future.”

And that would come with no strings – or wires – attached.

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