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Ochsner is Finding New Value from mHealth Data

The New Orleans-based health system is seeing positive results from its digital health programs, and learning how to apply those insights across populations.

By Eric Wicklund

Ochsner Health officials are just now seeing the results of their digital health initiatives – and making some interesting observations on the value of patient-generated data as well.

The New Orleans-based health system, among the nation’s frontrunners in the development of HealthKit and Apple Watch as patient engagement tools, is reporting “good success” with its hypertension program, according to Dr. Richard Milani, MD, Ochsner’s chief clinical transformation officer.

Ochsner Health’s Hypertension Digital Medicine Program, involving some 100 patients diagnosed with high blood pressure, has seen about two-thirds of that group bring their blood pressure under control within 90 days, said Milani. The project uses Apple’s HealthKit platform to connect the patients with their doctors and the health system’s Epic EMR.

A separate subset of that group has been equipped with Apple Watches to help monitor their blood pressure and receive daily reminders or support. Milani said it’s too early to tell how they’re doing.

Ochsner, which has been using HealthKit since the innovative platform debuted in 2014, is now taking its program to the next level. The Health System recently announced a partnership with Evidation Health, a digital analytics company launched out of the Stanford Health- GE Ventures incubator. The partnership aims to take the data that Ochsner is collecting, crunch the numbers and develop new intervention programs that can be applied across large groups of consumers.

“Our focus with Ochsner is to combine their expertise and their clinical knowledge, and the fact that they’ve been on the forefront of adopting and testing these digital solutions, and to pair it with our ability to provide technology infrastructure and data science on the consumer side, and marry that with the health outcomes side, to really generate that kind of evidence for external parties and internal parties,” Amy Belt Raimundo, Evidation Health’s chief business officer, recently told MobiHealthNews.

Milani says the partnership shows that Ochsner has grown beyond the stage of using new devices to gather data, and now wants to use that information to improve clinical outcomes. That may involve spotting trends and acting on them to provide guidance before a health issue surfaces, or using that data to develop population health programs.

“We’re looking for patterns,” he said. “If we’re going to actively serve and improve and enhance the populations we’re serving, we have to be on the leading edge of that.”

Milani said Ochsner is also learning a lot about the data it collects. While medical-grade data – information collected from devices and sensors without any user input – is the most reliable, researchers can’t discount the data submitted by the user, be it from a Fitbit, smartphone app or some other health and wellness tool.

“Obviously you want information that is legally valid – you don’t want to be making some major medical evaluation on something that is flimsy,” he said. “In the healthcare space, you have to have a higher level of reliability.”

“But that doesn’t mean the Fitbits and other (devices) don’t have value,” he added. “You can look for trends, and you can learn from these devices” in ways that promote and improve patient engagement. “They are a platform, and they’re being used by individuals who are thirsty for the ability to manage themselves.”

Milani says all the data coming into Ochsner from outside the health system helps to fill in the gaps between interactions and build a more robust profile of each consumer. Medical-grade data is used to inform and affect clinical decisions, and patient-entered data is used to gain a better idea of what the patient does and wants. Use the former to make clinical decisions, and use the latter to help the patient understand and accept those decisions.

It’s a new ecosystem not only for consumers, but for their doctors as well.

“We’re all learning the value of that information,” he said. “This is a fast-moving industry.” 

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