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Dignity Health Uses mHealth to Cut ER Visits, Hospitalizations

The California health system saw a 50 percent decrease in ER visits and hospitalizations among asthma patients who used Propeller Health's mHealth platform to improve care management.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- A healthcare provider who integrates digital therapeutics with a chronic care management program for asthma patients can cut ER visits and hospitalizations in half, according to a study undertaken by one of the nation’s largest health systems.

California’s Dignity Health system, working with researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Children’s Hospital Colorado and National Jewish Health in Denver, saw those results in an analysis of care management outcomes for more than 200 asthma patients using a digital health platform developed by Propeller Health.

As reported in the World Allergy Organization Journal, Dignity Health patients using the mHealth platform – which includes a wireless inhaler – saw their emergency room visits drop by 54 percent and combined ER visits and hospitalizations decrease by 57 percent compared to the year prior to the study.

Patients were enrolled in the study from September 2014 to November 2017 during routine asthma care in specialty and primary care clinics and were tracked for 12 months. The study received funding from the California Health Care Foundation.

“We are excited about the results, which further affirm the power digital tools provide in empowering patients to better manage their condition,” Rajan Merchant, MD, an asthma expert at the Dignity Health Medical Foundation in Woodland and Davis and lead author of the study, said in a press release issued by the health system. “At Dignity Health, we continue to see Propeller’s asthma management platform reduce our patients’ use of emergency visits and hospitalizations and increase their use of routine preventive care, which helps keep asthma well-controlled long-term. When patients can control their asthma symptoms and resume regular activities, we’ve done our job.”

The study combines chronic disease management with a connected health platform that not only tracks inhaler use around the clock, but passes that data on to the care team, which can then work with the patient to develop or improve current care plans.

“This is a perfect example of the positive effect a novel technology can have in helping patients manage a chronic condition,” Rich Roth, Dignity Health’s chief strategic innovation officer, noted in the press release. “When the sensor communicates more data to physicians, and patients have greater insight into their asthma triggers, outcomes improve and everyone wins.”   

According to Merchant and his colleagues, these types of platforms enable care providers to fine-tune and improve care management plans before serious health issues occur, thus reducing the chance of an ER visit or hospitalization. Such a program also encourages patients to better manage their own care, and to reduce their need for short-acting beta-agonist (SABA) “rescue” medications.

“(T)his analysis demonstrated that digital health interventions can be incorporated into routine clinical practice, and their use may contribute to improved outcomes including reduced healthcare utilization and reduced SABA use,” the study concluded. “The information collected by the EMMs (electronic medication monitors), and shared with both patients and HCPs (healthcare providers), can promote self-management and support personalized clinical care to achieve better asthma outcomes.”

The study points to the growing use of digital therapeutics to improve care management and coordination and reduce reliance on prescription medications, while also improving health and wellness and long-term care outcomes.

The study comes just days after ResMed, a leader in the digital health space for respiratory disease management, announced plans to buy Wisconsin-based Propeller Health for $225 million. If completed, the combined company would be a major player in the market for connected health solutions that address a wide range of respiratory care concerns, including asthma and COPD.

Propeller Health has long been at the forefront of mHealth innovation for asthma care management. In 2017, city officials in Louisville, Ky., noted the success of the company’s digital health platform in the Air Louisville Program, a two-year community health project that saw the city’s asthma and COPD population double the number of symptom-free days.

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