Dignity Health's mHealth Strategy

When Anna Wroble, RN, a nurse working in the neonatal intensive care unit at Dignity Health-St. Rose Dominican in Henderson, Nev., saw young mothers struggling to learn everything they would need to know to care for their babies, it gave her an idea.

"She noticed mothers of infants in the NICU, when they weren’t with their child, they were searching for information online on how to comfort and care for their babies during hospitalization," says Rich Roth, vice president of strategic innovation at San Francisco-based Dignity Health. "She came up with the idea for an app that would contain the educational information a mother might need to take care of her child in that situation."

She was able to share her idea through the Dignity Health Greenlight Challenge, a program that encourages Dignity Health employees to come forward with ideas on how to improve care delivery throughout the organization. Selected ideas are then developed into a workable product that has a positive impact on patient care, says Mr. Roth. "We get hundreds of ideas through this program," he says. "Then we work with the contributors of the most promising ones to make them a reality."

Dignity Health's NICU app Baby Growth Tracker is available free online and is the most popular app among the health system's digital offerings. Mr. Roth credits some of the app's popularity to a grant from the Children's Miracle Network that helped support the app's development and added prestige.

To Mr. Roth, in-house app development benefits from partnerships with outside organizations. "We look for a combination of internally developed ideas and [collaborations] with external companies that offer something novel," he says.

Currently, Dignity Health is partnering with Propeller Health, an mHealth and remote patient monitoring solutions vendor, to develop and test an app and sensor system that passively collects biometric data from asthma patients and alerts care providers to abnormalities. Recent results from the pilot phase show achievement in improving asthma management — patients in the intervention group needed to resort to their rescue inhaler once every 6.3 days, compared with once every 4.7 days for patients in the control group.

The partnership with Propeller Health has helped confirm Mr. Roth's belief "there's great and important creativity from our own employees, but there's also wisdom in working with outside organizations developing meaningful products."

Moving forward, Dignity Health will continue to test and refine mHealth offerings developed both externally and internally to discover the best methods for helping patients better engage with and manage their own care. "Our goal is to test these innovative opportunities for patient engagement in a safe environment so we can put real-world metrics to bear against the technology and see how the apps perform, and then make them perform better," says Mr. Roth.

He describes the health system's mHealth testing process as "run-run-jump." Dignity Health tests a new technology in one geographic area or patient population, adjusts the app based on results and feedback and then tests it again in a second area or population. A new innovation that passes these two tests is then scaled out to the whole system. This process "lets us see the implementation challenges and get expertise from technology experts to really make sure we have sophisticated, meaningful mobile tools."

Currently, Mr. Roth is particularly interested in sensor technology like that used in the Propeller Health system. "At the end of the day, apps need to be made easy," he says. "People do not see it as their job to take care of health care issues, so the easier we can make biometrically sensing things and sending the information to a care management team and then alerting patients when needed but otherwise letting them lead normal lives, the more successful apps will be."

This advanced technology will necessitate a closer relationship with outside developers, but according to Mr. Roth, that is the future of mHealth development. "The reality is this kind of technology will be developed by partnerships between technology companies and health systems," he says. "Our job is to be open to entrepreneurs and give them the real-world experience they and the product need."

More Articles on mHealth:

Beyond the EHR: Sentara Healthcare’s IT Strategy
12 Initiatives That Use Health IT to Manage Patients With Complex Conditions
Study: Daily Text Messages Improved Medication Adherence Among Diabetics

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