The newfangled Apple Watch just hit the streets on Friday but, already, one southern health system is testing whether the device proves to be a useful tool in transforming care, or just another fancy gadget that comes and goes.
Ochsner Health System in New Orleans announced Friday that it believes it is the first health care organization in the country to manage chronic disease with the new smartwatch — which includes wellness features allowing users to track steps or devise exercise plans. The 13-hospital nonprofit already started distributing some of the 30 watches it purchased to hypertensive patients on Friday. With the pilot project, they'll spend the next year or so using watches to track blood pressure, encourage exercise, and even send reminders to take medications, complete with a picture of each pill.
Richard Milani, M.D., chief clinical transformation officer for the health system, says Ochsner already has a pretty robust approach to mHealth. The new devices are just a way to strengthen those efforts and perhaps hold on to patients' attention longer than other devices of which they might grow weary.
"We think we can take it to another level potentially by virtue of the watch, so that's what we're trying to test out now,” Milani says. "We're using the watch to see if we can augment the benefits that we have already achieved in this program to an even greater level.”
Ochsner — which, by the way, wasn't paid to promote the product and owns no stake in Apple — chose to go the route of hypertension because of its high rate in Louisiana. Some 30 percent of U.S. adults suffer from high blood pressure, notes Milani, which goes up to 40 percent in the Bayou State. Those eligible for the pilot must have uncontrolled hypertension with three consecutive readings of more than 140/90, own an iPhone 5 or higher, and purchase a wireless blood pressure monitor.
The latter will be used to transmit data back to an Ochsner clinic, where a team of workers will monitor vitals and respond using evidence-based guidelines. Plus, results from the wireless monitor will be stored in the health system's patient portal, allowing its customers to track their progress. Other features the watch offers to pilot participants include advice from clinicians about possible side effects from medications, prescription renewal notices and exercise reminders, according to a release.
Others are also looking to capitalize on the just-released new technology, including Walgreens, which announced earlier this month at HIMSS that it soon plans to roll out its own app for the watch. Milani says Ochsner eventually may explore using such technology similarly with those suffering from diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. For now, they just want to see if it sticks with these first 30 patients, and helps move the needle with respect to quality and outcomes.
"We're just trying to learn about changing behavior and that's as far as I can say. We need to learn how we can do it in a fun way that individuals respond to. Right now, it's not a lot of fun when you come to the doctor and I say, 'do this, do that.' Some people respond to that, but most people don't.”