The University of California Davis Health System (UC Davis Health) has long been focused on using technology to keep patients healthy while lowering costs. The Sacramento-based patient care organization pioneered in 1996 with a telehealth program, aimed at access to specialty neonatal care for expectant mothers living in a small community 60 miles from the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. This Center for Health and Technology Telehealth Program is now one of the largest telehealth programs in the country.
Coaching for behavior change
UC Davis Health’s latest health IT endeavor earned the organization semifinalist status in the 2017 Healthcare Informatics Innovator Awards program. The technology aim of the project, called “Integrating Patient-Generated Health Data to Improve Health,” included diabetes and better blood pressure initiatives that would leverage patient-connected devices and integrate the patient-generated data points into the electronic health record (EHR), thus enabling clinicians to utilize coaching for behavior change when necessary.
The clinical aim of the diabetes initiative was and is, to improve the health of diabetic patients through the strategic use of technology and health coaching. From a technology standpoint, the aim was to leverage patient-connected devices (i.e. fitness trackers) and integrate the patient-generated data points (i.e. steps, active calories, resting calories, etc.) into the EHR via a vendor-neutral platform. Similarly, the clinical aim of the better blood pressure initiative was to improve the health of patients diagnosed with hypertension. By incorporating patient-reported blood pressure readings via connected devices into the EHR, clinicians could utilize coaching for behavior change when necessary, officials of UC Davis Health said.
Clinicians view of patients’ EHR
For the diabetic patient initiative, the aim of the health coaches and clinical care providers was to recruit 300 patients over a 12-month period. For the better blood pressure initiative, the aim of the health management and education team was to recruit 300 patients over a six-month period. The recruited patients were provided an iHealth wireless blood pressure and on-boarded on how to “connect” their device to Apple HealthKit to the patient portal, which would feed into the clinicians view of the patients’ EHR.
Foray into patient-generated health data
Project leader Madan Dharma, Ph.D., associate professor in residence at the Betty Irene School of Nursing at UC Davis and the Department of Pediatrics at the UC Davis School of Medicine, notes that the diabetic initiative was the organization’s first foray into patient-generated health data, and thus it focused on non-actionable data.
“So this means metrics around physical activity, nutrition, sleep, how much energy is taken in and being spent, and calories spent and taken in,” Dharma says. “The uniqueness of this project is that we wanted for providers to be able to take a four-week period, for instance, so they have a complete understanding and flexibility for how to look at that data and how it’s being presented to them. We needed to capture all of that data and have it within the EHR so they could pick a specific time period, drill into it, and understand the data from that time period,” he explains.
Impact behavior change
UC Davis Health also wanted to give physicians the ability to overlay that data with other clinical metrics which are routinely collected, such as lipid profiles and HbA1c levels so they can have a conversation with the patient. Dharma: “This way, they can tie that patient-generated health data with the clinical data and help them understand how a behavior change in their lifestyle can have an impact in how they manage that disease.”
Use of wearable, mobile apps doubled
An Accenture survey from March 2016 found that the number of U.S. consumers who use wearables and mobile apps for managing their health has doubled in the past two years. Despite this uptick in wearables and mHealth app usage, many providers find that issues around data quality and integration into EHRs are still major pain points.
Dharma says that data integrity was a big concern of UC Davis Health’s, as it’s commonly known that if physicians don’t trust the data they’re getting, they won’t use it. With patient-generated health data there are questions around patient errors and also about the honesty of the patients who are entering data when they are told they need to meet a certain criteria to meet goals, Dharma states. “We automated a lot of that process so that once the data is acquired by a certain device, it gets into our EHR. So there were really no issues around data quality at that point in time.”
That data is however coming from consumer devices, and there is inherently an imperfection or accuracy of consumer devices, as they are not meant to be accurate at a “medical grade level or a clinical decision level. After discussions with physician stakeholders, it was concluded that “since we are focused on a population-level metric, we understand the imperfection of that data, and are looking at shifts in data. As we look more at collecting actionable data to improve care, we are looking at FDA-approved devices which can better accurately capture that information. Like everyone else, we struggle with this problem.”
Care management portals
On the integration front, care management portals have mostly existed outside of the main EHR system, but the secondary portals are difficult for clinicians to manage because each portal/system requires a username and password. Additionally, providers often can’t find the information for patients in one location, and must go to multiple systems and locations to get a full view of the patients’ overall health, officials note. As such, UC Davis Health has developed the platform not just for local population health disease management, but has made it scalable for all patients to use (it just requires turning on the functionality).
In all, for the diabetes initiative, more than 1.4 million patient-generated health data points have been integrated into the EHR for clinical review and patient health management to-date (based on the count of patients recruited for this initiative). For the better blood pressure initiative, more than 2,700 data points have been made available to clinicians for review and patient health management (based on the count of patients recruited for this initiative). Patients participating in the initiatives have provided clinicians with improved visibility into patient health via ongoing data collection; clinicians now have the ability to collaborate with patients using real-time personalized data points, officials say.