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Putting mHealth to Work for Patient Engagement

In an example being showcased this week at HIMSS16, Seattle Children's Hospital's liver transplant program goes digital - with promising results.

By Eric Wicklund

- A home-grown mHealth program at Seattle Children’s Hospital is proving just how useful digital tools can be for patients, their families and hospital staff.

Traditionally, liver transplant patients and their family meet with hospital staff after the procedure to go over all the details of post-transplant life, from diet and exercise to medications and side-effects – a bedside conversation that can take close to five hours.

Now, Seattle Children’s patients and family can access that information online via their mobile device of choice, learning all the details when and where they’re ready.

“We’re revolutionizing how we educate,” says Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, the hospital’s executive director of digital health. “We wanted to digitize the information to make it more accessible and more complete.”

Working with North Highland, an Atlanta-based global consulting firm, Swanson first digitized all the information a transplant patient and his or her caregivers need to know. Then she leveraged a survey app often used by the hospital to create an online link to the newly digitized information.

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Drawing on her education background, she says she wanted to make the information “more meaningful and nurturing” for the patients and families, giving them data they could access, read through and digest on their own time and at their own pace, rather than going through a bedside presentation that might or might not sink in.

Swanson says patients’ families often go home and take in all the information within the first 24 hours. Then they’re ready to come back to the hospital and talk with doctors and nurses about what they’ve read and seen.

“The conversations then start in a different place,” she says. Patients and their families are more prepared to ask the right questions, and clinicians are less apt to spend time going over information that didn’t quite synch in at the bedside.

Janice Anderson, North Highland’s director of healthcare, says Seattle Children’s is doing something that many health systems need to do: Bring technology back to the patients and their families and make it engaging for them. To create a digital database, she and Swanson consulted with everyone involved in the post-transplant process, from the doctors to the bedside nurses to the pharmacists who often spend more than a dozen hours with each patient.

Then they approached the process from the patient’s viewpoint (or, since so many liver transplants are done on small children, the family’s viewpoint). They interviewed families who’d gone through the process, and who told them it was never easy to understand all the information given to them at the hospital.

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“Talking to them, you see how they go through such a roller coaster of emotions,” she says. “They’re trying to take it all in … and keep it all together.”

Both also see tremendous value in the program for the hospital staff. Digitizing the information frees them from, in essence, going over the basics, and gives them more time to make sure that information is being processed. It also improves their workloads.

While the program hasn’t yet produced statistical results, both Anderson and Swanson see its long-term value. Because of the complex and rigorous post-operation education process, patients are often delayed in being discharged from the hospital. Swanson expects this program to only eliminate those delays, thus reducing patient-length-of-stays.

In addition, she says, the discharged patients and their families will be more prepared for what lies ahead, having asked the questions they needed to ask. That should improve medication adherence, reduce any post-discharge complications (and rehospitalizations), and, in the long run, improve clinical outcomes.

Swanson said it took her and her team about a month to develop the online content for liver transplant patients. It’s taken only a couple weeks for them to do the same thing for kidney transplants; next, they’ll tackle heart transplants.

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“We’re hoping to digitize most of the experiences in the hospital,” she says, adding that she hopes to someday license the curriculum and offer it to other hospitals.

“Healthcare is just so person-based – we can’t replace that,” adds Anderson. “But with technology that’s already in place, we can take it and use it to make the (hospital stay) richer and much more personal.”

Anderson will be talking about this project at this week’s HIMSS16 conference and exhibition at the Venetian-Sands Expo Center in Las Vegas. “Agile Thinking Impact on Providers & Patient Care,” takes place from 10:45-11:45 a.m. Wednesday, March 2, at booth 14074 in the Clinical & Business Intelligence Pavilion in the Exhibit Hall.


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