Pete November, Executive Vice President, Digital Health and Chief Administrative Officer; Aimee Quirk, CEO, innovationOchsner (iO); and Dr. Richard Milani, Chief Clinical Transformation Officer and Medical Director of iO, discuss Ochsner’s leadership in innovation and digital health, our strategy for continued growth and the potential to drive new innovations that benefit both Ochsner patients and healthcare providers nationwide.
Q Ochsner today is recognized as a pioneer in digital health and is on the leading edge in emerging innovation. How did that come about?
Pete: Ochsner has a marked history of innovation, of embracing emerging technologies and deploying new ways to connect with and treat patients. That’s been true for over 77 years. Our digital health initiative began with the recognition that we need an entirely new system of care for chronic disease management, one that can improve patient outcomes and reduce costs. According to the CDC, chronic disease is both the leading cause of death and the foremost driver of healthcare costs. Over five years ago we founded innovationOchsner (iO) and set out to reengineer and completely redesign the delivery model to try to move the needle on chronic disease. The virtual Digital Medicine programs we developed have led to great results, helping patients with hypertension and diabetes stay healthier and avoid serious complications. Since then our momentum and reach in this space has only grown.
Our digital health initiative began with the recognition that we need an entirely new system of care for chronic disease management, one that can improve patient outcomes and reduce costs.— Pete November
Q What is iO?
Aimee: iO is our innovation lab that functions much like a startup within the health system. We have a really talented cross-functional, entrepreneurial team that understands how technology can make accessing care more convenient and can also result in better health by allowing our care to be more predictive, proactive, personalized and participatory. We have been able to develop digital health solutions to do just that, including the Digital Medicine program Pete mentioned. What’s exciting is that not only are we known nationally for breaking new ground in healthcare, but our work is also improving the health and lives of people in the communities where we live and work every day. Our focus is bringing these new models to more people in more ways.
Q Thousands of Ochsner patients are participating in these award-winning Digital Medicine programs for chronic disease. Do you see additional opportunities to grow your presence?
Dr. Milani: Absolutely. Just in Louisiana alone there are 1.4 million patients who we know could potentially live longer, healthier lives through these types of innovations. We also know these digital programs are not limited by geography and can be extended to patients no matter where they live. We’re also focused now on building out additional Digital Medicine programs for other common chronic diseases like COPD and high cholesterol.
Aimee: Just as we’re developing new programs, we’re also working to develop new ways to bring the high-quality care digital medicine offers to more people. Toward the end of 2019, we partnered with a national telemedicine platform called Hims & Hers that addresses a variety of sensitive health concerns from hair loss to erectile dysfunction. They found that some of their patients needed access to chronic disease care, so we worked with them to create a seamless, virtual experience for those patients to connect to our Digital Medicine offering. It’s exciting to be their first digital health partner, because together we are creating a platform of effective healthcare delivery for the benefit of patients, while extending the benefits of our Digital Medicine programs to help more people reach their health goals.
Pete: I’d add that the demand for care options that can be delivered exactly where and when people need them goes beyond the individual. Our Digital Medicine solutions are sought-after by national payors, employers and healthcare providers who are seeking new solutions to help keep their members healthy. With that in mind, we recently created a new business unit that will focus exclusively on commercializing and expanding the existing Digital Medicine offerings, allowing iO to stay focused on developing new solutions and making new breakthroughs for chronic disease and beyond.
Our continued focus on virtual care is all about being predictive and proactive. We’re removing barriers to access by allowing patients to see high-quality providers in a setting that is convenient for them.— Aimee Quirk
Q Going beyond your chronic disease management solutions, what are some of your most promising technologies, platforms and research areas to improve access and enhance care?
Dr. Milani: On the research front, we’ve started an engineering lab to allow us to develop more in-home technologies, and we’ll continue to invest heavily in this space. As the U.S. population ages, many of them want to age at home and outside of traditional nursing homes. We want to be there with them through technologies like remote patient monitoring, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence — offering better and safer care than what’s available today. I think in five or 10 years the experience of aging at home will look and feel much different.
Pete: Of course, home-based care isn’t limited to an older population. Just a couple of years ago we introduced Ochsner Anywhere Care, a virtual visit tool for urgent care that offers access to a licensed physician or advanced practice provider whenever and wherever you need it. We subsequently added online behavioral health counseling services to our Anywhere Care offering. The newest enhancement, which we’re really excited about, is the Anywhere Care Health Kit, a handheld device that allows you to capture physical examination data at home and share it with your physician online through the Ochsner Anywhere Care app. The device has a video screen that guides you through the exam and a digital camera, stethoscope, otoscope and tongue depressor that enable you to listen to your heart and lungs and examine your throat, ears and skin from the comfort of your own home. It can be used anytime day or night for yourself, your child or an elderly relative. At launch we sold more than 700 of these new kits, completed more than 2,100 virtual visits and enrolled an additional 11,500 Ochsner Anywhere Care patients. We believe that this type of virtual care is here to stay.
Aimee: We have also created solutions to help enable more convenient, proactive care for other conditions, such as pregnancy. Our Connected MOM program allows expectant mothers to stay connected to their Ochsner care team from the comfort of home. We give mom a kit of connected devices, including a scale and a blood pressure cuff, that seamlessly communicate with our electronic record, allowing us to see how she is doing wherever she is. Through this program, we have been able to reduce the number of visits for mom, while providing a more continuous connection that allows us to detect any problems even sooner than we otherwise would. Our focus now is on expanding Connected MOM to high-risk pregnancies so we can monitor fetal heart tones and other important signs of health and distress remotely. We are ultimately trying to help all our patients in our community live their healthiest and best lives.
Q What are your going-forward priorities in digital health?
Aimee: Looking ahead, we are continuing to focus on developing new initiatives to support patients and their families on their health journey by creating more solutions that make care much easier to access. We will continue to focus on chronic disease because it impacts so many people, and we know digital health solutions can really help improve control. We will add more care services to our digital platform across multiple service lines, allowing more people to get the care they need from wherever they are. And, as Dr. Milani said, we will invest in solutions that enable health in the home and provide peace of mind for people as they age in place.
Dr. Milani: There are so many domains to explore. Take the genetic mutations associated with hereditary cancer and heart disease. You can’t — and shouldn’t — approach these diseases with a one-size-fits-all approach. Our new partnership with Color has allowed us to create a first-of-its-kind, fully digital genomics program that lets us do proactive genetic screening to identify patients with higher risk early, before the onset of disease. This information equips patients with personalized details about their health and helps our providers deliver more and better preventive care. In our pilot we’re screening for markers for breast and ovarian cancers, colorectal and endometrial cancers and heart disease and stroke. This is just one way we are taking a comprehensive view of a person’s health by looking at all the factors that determine it.
Our continued focus on digital health is all about being predictive and proactive. We’re removing barriers to access by allowing patients to see high-quality providers in a setting that is convenient for them.
Pete: Patients will always seek hospital or clinic-based care, but now they can also receive it at home, at work or even on vacation, and it can still be with the Ochsner healthcare provider they trust.
Our new partnership with Color has allowed us to create a first-of-its-kind, fully digital genomics program that lets us do proactive genetic screening to identify patients with higher risk early, before the onset of disease.— Dr. Richard Milani