As health care continues to move into the digital age of convenient access and connected data, health systems across the country are repurposing ideas leveraged in other industries to better engage both patients and providers. Take Oschner Health System’s “O Bar,” for example. Modeled after Apple’s Genius Bar, the New Orleans-based health system’s “O Bar” was launched in 2014 in order to provide in-person support for health and wellness apps, monitoring devices and other wearable technology. Other health systems are following suit, including Morristown Medical Center’s HealtheConnect, MedStar Health’s iBar at multi-specialty care centers in Bel Air and Lafayette Centre, and Sibley Memorial Hospital’s technology concierge center in their new patient tower.
Recognizing that customer service is a key differentiator between competitors, MedStar launched the iBar pilot over the past summer in an effort to deliver personalized assistance for patients wanting to learn more about digital health tools. The iBar is a mechanism for fostering more meaningful interaction between providers and patients. It's really about helping our patients actively participate in their health and wellness. It’s intended to create a new pattern of interaction between the health system and the patients they care for.
Digital specialists staff the iBar, assisting patients with apps and technology that can help improve their health and wellness, including a monitor that tracks blood pressure through a wireless cuff and weight loss mobile apps.
While there is not yet proof of improved longevity as a result of mobile apps and devices, 85 percent of providers believe that the use of wearables helps patients engage with their health1. And as the use of health apps and wearables has doubled over the past two years1, there is a resounding need for patient support in filtering through the hundreds of thousands of health apps available. Not convinced yet? Here are three reasons for implementing “Genius bars” in health care.
- Increased Patient Engagement: Digital health technology empowers patients to proactively manage their health and wellness. Supporting utilization of these tools ensures patients are using the most effective tools to help them make impactful health and wellness decisions.
- Example: Maria wants a digital tool to help her be accountable for losing weight. A MedStar iBar specialist assists Maria with downloading myFitnessPal, a weight loss application. Maria sets a realistic weight loss goal under the direction of her primary care provider and learns how to track her food intake. Maria begins tracking her food and weight and is able to make food decisions based on the progress and recommendations reflected in the app.
- Enhanced Patient Experience: Patients have come to expect the same seamless interaction with their healthcare providers as they do with other products and services. Providing a single point of service for assistance with digital health tools enables health systems to match the level of personalized customer service experienced across other industries.
- Example: Steven wants to log in to his myMedStar patient portal account in order to review a summary of his visit from a week ago. He’s having trouble remembering his password, so he stops by MedStar’s iBar to receive assistance. The iBar specialist helps Steven reset his password. While reviewing his medical records, Steven realizes he needs to schedule a visit with a specialist. The iBar specialist helps Steven access MedStar’s Find A Doctor, where Steven can view provider profiles and schedule an appointment online. Steven is now able to log in to his myMedStar account on his own, and he has an appointment scheduled with a specialist at a time that is convenient for him.
- Better Outcomes: Providers believe that patients actively involved in managing their health tend to have better outcomes while also costing the system less. Educating patients on how this digital health data can support their discussions with their healthcare providers enables them to take action. Digital health tools enable providers to make more informed clinical decisions and patients to more easily change their behavior, particularly as it relates to managing chronic diseases.
- Example: Amy’s doctor wrote a mock prescription for her to visit the MedStar iBar and learn how to monitor her sleeping, blood pressure and exercise. The iBar specialist demonstrates relevant mobile apps for Amy and shows her to view all of the data collected in her iPhone Health app. The next time Amy visits her doctor, she reviews her data in the app dashboard, which helps inform the doctor’s recommendations.
In order to move the needle on patient engagement outcomes through the utilization of digital tools, health systems need to provide incentives for consumers — and clinicians. Financial incentives among payers and members of health plans will result in increased adoption of digital health tools.
In addition to incentives, health systems need to establish platforms and processes for flowing consumer data seamlessly to medical records. Today much of the data generated by health apps and devices is isolated outside of the Electronic Health Record. For high-risk chronic disease patients, providing mobile apps and wearable lifestyle tracking devices that sync with a medical record—particularly for high-risk chronic disease patients—is more effective for intervention in real-time, rather than relying on self-reporting. "Doing so facilitates a truly balanced partnership between the patient and the clinical care team, which is really the goal for improving outcomes," notes Ruiz.