Health Systems Are Taking a More Mature Look at Digital Health

9 May 2019

Healthcare providers are taking a closer look at their digital health programs and working on ways to improve access, open the door to new uses and find new ways to make mHealth data work for them.

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By Eric Wicklund

Health systems are starting to rethink their mHealth strategies – in terms of both consumer demand and consumer safety.

In North Carolina, Novant Health has announced the formation of a digital health and engagement business division aimed at bringing all of the health system’s connected care efforts under one roof. The unit, to be led by Hank Capps, senior vice president and chief digital health and engagement officer, and Stephanie Landry, senior director of digital health and engagement, aims to not only improve patient engagement through the health system’s mobile health platform but also pave the way for new technologies and services.

“When we think about the future of healthcare, we have to consider where and how patients want to connect with their care team,” Angela Yochem, executive vice president and chief digital and technology officer of the four-state, 15-hospital network, said in a press release. “Our connection with patients should not be constrained to the four walls of a facility.”

“Many of our patients leverage technology in all facets of their lives, and they have responded favorably to our e-visits and on-demand video visits,” she added. “The launch of the digital health and engagement division will allow us to better connect with our patients when and where they need us through a variety of virtual solutions. This team will help us incorporate health care that’s accessible to patients anywhere, anytime.”

The announcement mirrors a trend in the telehealth ecosystem in which healthcare providers are moving toward enterprise-wide platforms. Whereas many of these telehealth and telemedicine programs began as small pilots or programs offered through individual departments, health system executives now want to pull them onto one platform, to better manage them and pave the way for sustainability and scalability.

The concept is no different in digital health circles, where hospitals have launched mHealth apps, portals and programs and now want to corral them for better management.

The effort also recognizes that a health system’s connected health strategy is being more and more driven by patient demand and accessibility.

“In today’s environment, consumers want and expect to engage with companies digitally,” Jesse Cureton, Novant Health’s executive vice president and chief consumer officer, said in the press release. “Creating a digital health and engagement division is the next step in meeting the needs of our patients in a way that makes accessing care simpler and more convenient.”

On the opposite end of the country, a health system is teaming up with a payer to better understand how these digital health tools and services can be used or reconfigured to improve patient safety and clinical outcomes.

The University of California at San Francisco this week announced that it will be working with The Doctors Company, billed as the nation’s largest physician-owned medical malpractice insurer, to study how digital health affects patient care. The aim of the $1 million partnership is to bring mHealth tools to bear on gaps in care and pain points that lead to health emergencies.

“Widespread digitization of the healthcare system over the past decade – including electronic health records (EHRs), apps, and sensors – offers new ways to study and address traditional patient safety challenges such as diagnostic and medication errors,” the two organizations said in a press release. “There also are new challenges that stem directly from these emerging digital capabilities, including how to integrate AI tools into front-line care, mitigate alert fatigue, share data with patients, preserve the physician-patient relationship with increasing use of technology in the exam room and asynchronous communication tools, avoid physician burnout related to suboptimal EHR usability and performance, and ensure cybersecurity.”

“The primary goal of the partnership is to discover and disseminate new insights into risk mitigation strategies and patient safety by connecting top-tier UCSF researchers and unique resources and expertise from The Doctors Company,” added Julia Adler-Milstein, PhD, an associate professor of medicine at UCSF.

Both announcements indicate providers are looking to create more mature digital health platforms that go beyond access and data capture and look to manage those connections and make the data more useful.

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