Hacking Healthcare Device Interoperability

Scott Mace, April 26, 2016

As the volume of patient-generated data expands, one provider is finding a way to connect to that data, pair it with its EHR system, derive insights, and communicate back to the patient in a meaningful way.

Due to the number of data breaches of late, the term hacking is once again associated with bad things. But every now and then we need to remember that hacking is sometimes the only thing that allows technology to achieve a desired end.

In the case of medical devices, for economic and legal reasons, many consumer-oriented medical devices remain disconnected from the Internet. Given those breaches I mentioned, this is probably a good thing until device makers and the public understand that the cost of the device must include adequate security, if that device is to be attached to the Internet.

But this reality leaves healthcare with a problem, which is that patient-generated data about their own health is expanding rapidly. Recently I learned that Sutter Health has been piloting a technology that cleverly pulls that data off of previously disconnected devices right into EHRs.

Using an evolving solution from Validic known as VitalSnap, Sutter's technology consists of a smartphone app capable of using the phone's camera to sense and capture readings from blood pressure cuffs, scales, and other devices in the possession of consumers. Then, through an integration effort with EHR vendors such as Cerner, VitalSnap packages up those readings and pushes them into EHRs.

Albert ChanLast year, Sutter piloted Validic technology for six months with 149 patients with high blood pressure, says Albert Chan, vice president, chief of patient experience and a practicing physician at Sutter.

"We were able to connect to their data and we were able to present the data back to the patients in a meaningful way," Chan says. "They could see how, for example, their walking behavior or their eating habits impacted how their blood pressures were the following day, or even exercise routines and how that affected their blood pressures throughout the day."

While patients could view such results immediately in Sutter's patient portal, Sutter also mobilized a hypertension patient care team to notice 14-day trends and reach out to patients who needed attention, advising them to increase or reduce medicine dosages, increase exercise levels, or have a dietician give advice on changing eating habits, Chan says.

"In addition to that, of course, patients themselves could look at the data that they had submitted and see the trends and understand what impact their blood pressure has," he says.

The Sutter pilot was not a formal randomized study. (Chan wonders how one could be designed. What would be the placebo?) However, 60% of patients enrolled in the trial who previously had not achieved control of their blood pressure "got better," Chan says. "Our insight was [that] it was really empowering to give patients access to data" and the data also provided new insights to the care management team."

"We are now transitioning to actually [partnering] in a more integrated way with the primary care clinics," Chan says. "Primary care is about taking care of a number of patients and trying to make sense of all the data that's available to us about their care. We have the recognition that 99.9% of your life does not happen in the clinic."

And yet, he says, "We're making these decisions about people's care plans based on limited data sets. So in some sense, we're very excited about the opportunity to understand some of the key impacts on people's lives outside of the clinic. That's one of the things that drove us to partner with Validic to try to develop solutions."

Scott Mace

Scott Mace is the former senior technology editor for HealthLeaders Media. He is now the senior editor, custom content at H3.Group.

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