How Partners HealthCare is embracing consumerism

Samuel "Sandy" Aronson is the executive director of IT at Partners HealthCare Personalized Medicine in Cambridge, Mass.

There, he and his team support the health system's clinical genetics lab from an IT perspective and work with other departments that have discovered ways to radically redesign clinical processes. 

"Where the IT support is needed to support these processes goes beyond what can be supplied through our traditional EHR ecosystem," he told Becker’s Hospital Review. "What this involves is some type of new digital or algorithmic capability that enables us to rethink how frequently care can be delivered."

Below, Mr. Aronson discusses how genomic testing is being used today and what he is doing to embrace consumerism.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: How have companies like 23andMe and Ancestry affected healthcare?

Sandy Aronson: The type of testing that I support is different than the type of testing that 23andMe and Ancestry do. The type of tests we conduct at Partners are either tests that are done because a patient has a specific indication; we know a patient has something or is at risk of something. We want to assess the patient's genomics to give us more information so we can in turn provide the most appropriate care. The reason for the test is often different than the reason consumers undergo 23andMe testing, so the processes are different.

At the same time, there are a great number of initiatives that are typically done in the research setting today that are focused on broadly sequencing DNA. The reason we are doing this is typically to look for variances that are associated with different risks, and so we can proactively mitigate these risks.

While it's a different context, I do think what's happened is 23andMe and Ancestry have raised public awareness and understanding of genetics. I do think that is helpful for the field and helpful for the population as a whole to have this kind of information.

Q: What is Partners doing to make healthcare more consumer-friendly?

SA: The combination of new digital technologies as well as new algorithmic technologies is enabling us to rethink the way the care delivery process can work from the ground up. This allows us to really think about how to reduce the tendency of having to get a patient and clinician into the same room to deliver care. Obviously, there are many instances where being in the same room is required. However, there are also instances where you can create "de-localized care experiences." You can create capabilities where you can proactively reach out to patients based on what works best for the patients' schedule and is most optimal for the patients’ biology. If you are unconstrained by the scheduling of physical interaction, you can optimize entirely based on the other two factors.

At Partners, we proactively reach out to patients over the phone to talk about their care. This allows us to really optimize the patient care. We are also exploring how we can use apps and other channels to reach patients. There are a lot of opportunities.

Q: What's in store for 2020?

SA: We are focused on expanding the number of patients who we can help through digitally transformed care delivery processes. This involves scaling on a number of different dimensions. Fundamentally, this involves taking existing programs that have been shown to work and making them available to an increasing number of patients.

Also, we will take the lessons that we have learned from the clinical areas that we are working with today and apply them to other clinical areas. Essentially, this is working to transform care delivery processes in other areas. As we do this, we are collecting more data to help us analyze the different programs on a deeper and deeper level so we can continuously optimize patients. I think this is an example of continuous learning. It's an exciting time and I think 2020 will be an important year relative to moving us to continuously improve the healthcare ecosystem.

More articles on consumerism:
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