When Gaylan Martineau’s blood pressure spikes, she’s not alone in determining how to respond. Martineau is a participant in Ochsner’s Hypertension Digital Medicine Program. She takes a blood pressure reading with one click in her home, and the results are uploaded to her smartphone, then automatically shared with her care team through our electronic health record system.
Martineau’s readings might prompt feedback from her physician, her pharmacist or her health coach, who may suggest adjustments to her medication or diet and exercise changes to try. “It’s so great to have the supportive team that I have,” Martineau says. “You get a lot more out of it than just monitoring your blood pressure.”
Thousands of patients have participated in this innovative, virtual program since it was launched in 2015. It has proven successful in integrating with traditional care and improving patient outcomes. After six months in the program, 79% of Ochsner Digital Medicine patients with elevated blood pressure achieved their blood pressure goals, compared to only 26% of patients in a control group. Medication adherence increased for participants in the program by 7.5%, whereas it decreased by 2.5% over the same time period for members in the control group.
Now, the Digital Medicine platform has expanded to improve treatment for other conditions that benefit from regular monitoring, including diabetes. For people living with diabetes, keeping up with everything necessary to maintain healthy blood sugar levels can be a time-consuming and frustrating task. But traditionally, adjustments to medications and treatment plans are only made during visits to a provider a few times a year.
Ochsner is also extending the Digital Medicine Program into cancer treatment. Dr. Brian Moore, Medical Director of the Ochsner Cancer Institute, is currently leading a pilot program using remote monitoring for patients receiving radiation and chemotherapy for head and neck cancer. Care teams monitor patients’ weight, body temperature and activity levels sent from the patients’ homes, allowing the care team to address any emerging problems proactively.
“Remote monitoring allowed my doctors to keep track of my nutritional intake, water intake and swallowing exercises as I went through cancer treatment,” explains Cynthia Weatherly, an Ochsner patient. “I really appreciate that they were there for me constantly and always aware of where I was in my treatment. I think it built a really great relationship between my doctors and me.”
Using a connected glucometer, Diabetes Digital Medicine patients can measure blood sugar levels from anywhere and transmit results to their care teams for review. Patients receive regular feedback in the form of monthly progress reports as well as regular phone calls, text messages and other communications. The diabetes program launched in 2018, and more than 750 patients have already enrolled.
As Ochsner builds these programs, we continue to measure not only individual results, but also assess group differences in chronic disease management. After six months, the majority of participants in the Diabetes Digital Medicine program had reduced their hemoglobin A1C to goal levels, and patients’ rates of low blood glucose events decreased by more than half. Patients reported less distress related to managing their condition, and providers became more effective at providing ongoing health maintenance, such as scheduling eye and kidney exams.
Richard Milani, MD, Ochsner’s Chief Clinical Transformation Officer and Medical Director for innovationOchsner (iO), helped design and implement the Digital Medicine programs. He explains that continuous, real-time monitoring may improve patients’ lives for many years into the future. “If we can catch issues early using our screening tools, we can better intervene to prevent serious complications that patients with diabetes are at risk for, like kidney failure and blindness.”
Ochsner Digital Medicine is expanding healthcare to fill in the gaps between in-person appointments, allowing care teams and patients to work together to achieve optimal health. And it’s succeeding by putting patient convenience first. By making more frequent and personalized interactions with the care team easy and ensuring patients receive follow-ups when and how they prefer, this platform is creating a new standard in patient-centered care and empowering patients to live their healthiest best lives.