When a state ranks last on numerous health metrics, it has nowhere to go but up.
Ochsner Health executives are betting on a $100 million 10-year investment to take Louisiana out of the basement and rank 40th in many of these metrics by 2030. The initiative aims to improve health outcomes and equity, reducing barriers to accessing health care. in underserved communities and promoting innovation.
In January, Healthcare hired Dr. Denise Basow as chief digital officer to help achieve some of these goals and change the story of Pelican State. “One thing that might make Ochsner a little different from other healthcare systems is that we care about a population that has traditionally suffered from really high rates of chronic disease and socioeconomic problems,” Basow said. “Over the next eight years, we will work to improve access and care for this population.”
Basow spoke with Digital Health Business & Technology about using technology for Louisiana Healthy Initiative, how she chooses digital health solutions from a variety of options, and more. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
How can digital health help improve outcomes and access in Louisiana?
We just completed a Medicaid pilot project, which is a pretty good proxy. We identified patients with either high blood pressure or diabetes and sent them home with blood pressure cuffs and diabetic monitoring supplies. We have created an application that works through a smartphone and they have to make their own readings. And then instead of writing those readings down on a piece of paper or just not taking them, the readings are sent to the care team through an app that connects to these home monitoring devices. The care team pays special attention to these patients. It includes health care providers who can manage their medications and health educators to ensure patients understand what we are asking them to do. Coaches tell them about some lifestyle changes and help them just learn about their illness. It’s a combination of digital technology and people, and I think it’s really a winning combination. We have seen a rather dramatic improvement in their blood pressure. [readings] and diabetes control [metrics], reduced use of the emergency department, and fewer hospital admissions. We seem to have found this combination of using digital tools in a way that makes people more involved in taking care of themselves.
How does Ochsner choose which digital healthcare solutions to use?
I do five to ten of these pitches a day. It’s pretty crazy. There is no magic formula here. The first thing you need to know is what problems you really want to solve. We have an innovation team that is very successful. We have a lot of technical resources and fantastic data to draw on. When you put it all together, we can do a lot on our own. This does not mean that we always have to do something on our own, but we have an opportunity that many do not have. We’re looking at things like cost, how long it will take, and how these additional solutions integrate into our electronic health record. We bring it all together to make a decision to buy or build. We must focus resources on things that don’t exist or that we can build better. Honestly, this is not a black and white solution. And the more options you have, the more difficult these decisions are because we really can’t build much on our own.
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What metrics do you typically use to evaluate digital health projects?
One of the beauties of digital programs is that they are very measurable. We measure everything we do, and if the program doesn’t work, we either discard it or modify it. It is extremely important that you set goals because if you keep changing them as you progress, you can sometimes fool yourself. Ask yourself what are we trying to achieve? In our hypertension/diabetes programs, we look at blood pressure, blood sugar control, and reduce the use of costly medical services such as the emergency room or hospitalizations. We have a Connected Mom program where we monitor pregnant women remotely and identify problems early. Through this initiative, we aim to reduce the number of pregnancy complications and the number of obstetric visits they make.
How do you hope Ochsner’s digital capabilities will be in a year?
I want to make sure we encourage constant innovation and develop new programs that have always been in our DNA. I want to make sure we have the investment and support for this. One of the key roles that I can play is to take all of these great things that are already out there and try to organize them a little bit, so instead of dealing with individual issues, we are really transforming some of our care patterns.
I will give you an example. We have many migraine patients. This is a common disorder. And we have a team of neurologists who are inventive in how we care for these patients. We have developed several questionnaires, and patients receive these questionnaires every month, and if something relative follows from this questionnaire, it is returned to the doctor. We really could rethink how we care for migraine patients. When can we use virtual visits versus an in-person visit? Can we provide a mechanism for patients to give us real-time feedback so they don’t have to wait a month to tell us about their problem? How often do they need to see a neurologist instead of just being seen by their primary care physician? We can play on that and really build that care model.
We are in the process of identifying some strategic areas where we really want to rethink this exit model. We are starting to create these paths and implement digital tools where it makes sense. Again, it’s a combination of digital technology and people. But I would like to see in a year we have made a lot of progress in our highest priority areas, the diseases that we want to work on first.