Health care, says Richard Milani, M.D., has been a “widget” industry for far too long. It’s time to do things differently; it is time to find new ways of connecting and communicating with patients. Milani has his eyes set on doing just that.

As chief clinical transformation officer at Ochsner Health System, Milani is pushing innovations that better enable clinicians — and hospitals — to serve patients of the 21st century. He points to a confluence of events that’s forcing hospitals to rethink their business and clinical strategies: Patients are becoming more educated, their needs and demands are changing, communication tools are more sophisticated and reimbursement is increasingly being tied to value and outcomes.

So Ochsner, as well as many organizations on the 2014 H&HN Most Wired list, is embracing more mobile-friendly technology. To a large degree, it’s a game of catch-up. Most of us are connected to our mobile devices from dawn to dusk. We bank, shop, talk, read, get updates on family and friends, listen to music and watch TV on these devices. Shouldn’t we be able to engage in our health this same way?

“Take a step back,” Milani says. “Until the last decade, if you wanted medical information about yourself, you had to see your physician. But now, medicine is going through a revolution. You can get a Fitbit or a variety of apps that can collect information about your body and tell you things to do. Patients are becoming more health literate. These are all positives. The more that patients are engaged, the better off we are.”

Understanding the need to communicate with patients on their terms, Ochsner is testing a unique idea at its flagship primary care clinic — the O Bar. The idea is to give patients expert advice on how to find and use relevant mHealth apps. Tech-savvy Ochsner staff positioned in the O Bar help patients download apps to their devices and offer tutorials. Think of it as health care’s version of Apple’s Genius Bar.

“A lot of patients would like to dabble in mHealth, but they don’t know where to begin,” Milani says, adding that the O Bar can offer help in a “nonthreatening way.”

As with any innovation, though, there are some unresolved issues. For starters, mHealth is largely unregulated, although the FDA has issued guidance on how it plans to oversee this burgeoning market. Second: that pesky interoperability problem. Few apps are capable of linking to a patient’s formal electronic health record.

Milani, however, argues that hospitals can’t afford to sit and let tech advancements pass them by.

“The apps are out there and people are going to get them,” he says. “The smart thing for us to do is get our hands around what we think are pretty good apps and make them more helpful to patients.”

And connecting a medical record? Well, Milani recognizes that there are challenges, but sees patient portals as one avenue for bringing the two environments together.

Ochsner plans to roll out other patientcentric innovations, Milani says, including mobile alerts to remind patients with chronic conditions to take their medications. For a subset of those patients, Ochsner will be able to gauge success of the program by analyzing claims and prescription refill data provided by insurers.

Through these innovations, Ochsner is hoping to put more data into patients’ hands and then leverage various digital social connections to change behavior. “The goal is to do what we can to improve care for our patients,” Milani says.

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