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Telehealth, mHealth Help Pediatric Hospitals Connect With Kids

Baltimore's Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital is the latest to use a telehealth platform and mHealth devices to help its young patients with weight and lifestyle management issues.

Source: ThinkStock

By Eric Wicklund

- A Baltimore children’s hospital is turning to telehealth and mHealth wearables to help its young patients with health, diet and lifestyle issues at home.

Mount Washington Pediatric Hospital will be using Fitbits and Fitbit-connected scales with a telehealth platform designed by Fruit Street to enable clinicians to monitor and connect with patients in the hospital’s Weigh Smart program, a pediatric and adolescent weight management program for ages 2 and older that gives patients access to a pediatric gastroenterologist, nurse practitioner, nurses, psychologists, dietitians and physical therapist.

Hospital officials say patients will be equipped with a wearable like the Fitbit activity band and a connected, wireless scale to monitor their weight and activity. Through the Fruit Street telehealth platform, they’ll be able to take pictures of the food they eat and engage in video calls with Mount Washington care team members to review activity data and discuss weight management plans.

The patients will also be able to use a Fruit Street app to send and receive HIPAA-compliant text messages to and from their care team at the hospital.

“The addition of Fruit Street technology will allow our patients greater freedom to connect directly with their providers from the comfort of their homes and we hope this will enhance retention and outcomes for patients involved in this program,” Michelle Demeule-Hayes, MS, RD, LDN, the Weigh Smart program’s director, said in a press release.

The 102-bed post-acute hospital, jointly owned by Johns Hopkins Medical System and University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Medicine, treats nearly 9,000 patients a year on an inpatient and outpatient basis.

It’s the latest in a growing number of pediatric hospitals turning to telehealth and mHealth to connect with their young charges at home, where healthcare providers can better communicate and collaborate with patients on sensitive health issues and create effective care management plans.

There’s evidence the platform is working, too. Just up the highway in Boston this past June,  MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Harvard Vanguard announced the results of a two-year clinical trial that indicated mHealth interventions can improve weight management in children.

"Combatting obesity is an enormous challenge in pediatrics and identifying tools that are proven to make a difference in the health and well-being of our patients is essential," Daniel H. Slater, MD, chairman of Pediatrics at Atrius Health, said of the Connect 4 Health trial, which he co-authored.

"Improvements which include the electronic health record flagging of children with an unhealthy BMI, clinical decision support tools to help clinicians provide high quality care, and educational materials for parents to support self-guided behavior change have all laid the groundwork for the two interventions tested in this study,” he said.

This isn’t Fruit Street’s first foray into pediatric telehealth. Last December, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital launched a program using the New York-based telehealth company’s platform to help children with weight management issues. The 12-week pediatric telehealth weight management pilot enabled the hospital’s registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) to monitor patients at home through the Fruit Street platform, which includes a mobile application. Medgem activity tracker and Tanita scale.

The Fruit Street platform is also in use at the University of Michigan, which launched a pediatric telemedicine weight management program in 2015, and at the University of North Florida, which launched a binge eating disorder study roughly a year ago. The company has integrated its platform with the Apple Watch and explored partnerships with Validic and Fitbit.

Launched in 2014 by Laurence Girard and VSee founder Milton Chen and touting more than 160 physician investors, Fruit Street is one of the so-called “second wave” of telehealth companies, focused on health and wellness platforms that help drive providers and patients dealing with chronic diseases and issues like weight gain, addiction and behavioral health concerns.

"(O)besity costs the US healthcare system over $147 billion each year, and two in three Americans are overweight or obese,” Girard said prior to a conference earlier this year. “Our healthcare system must use technology such as Fruit Street to find more cost-effective solutions to address the obesity epidemic."

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