Barton Health System CEO talks Proteus ingestible sensor deal

By Jonah Comstock

When Proteus Digital Health got its first FDA clearance, Stephen Colbert, then still the host of The Colbert Report, featured the pill on his ‘Cheating Death’ segment.

“The sensor can help patients suffering from diseases of the central nervous center, including schizophrenia,” he said. “Because nothing is more reassuring to a schizophrenic than a corporation inserting sensors into your body that beam information to all those people watching your every move.”

The “Big Brother” vibe is a real danger to Proteus’s ingestible sensor catching on, especially as the company begins to finally launch commercially in hospitals, as it did yesterday when it announced its deal with Barton Health System in California. But Barton Health CEO (and practicing physician) Clint Purvance says what attracted him to Proteus was the rejection of the surveillance mentality, in favor of a collaborative one.

“What really interested me in working with Proteus was when I first listened to [Proteus CEO] Andrew Thompson, at an innovation seminar in the Bay area, I believe it was in May of 2015,” Purvance told MobiHealthNews. “He was very interested in partnering with doctors and patients on the technology, versus the Big Brother approach. And I really think that’s right. In the hands of doctors and patients it’s a very valuable tool for physicians like myself who provide exceptional care to our patients because we understand their daily activity levels, how they use their medication, how compliant they are. And that allows me to have a better relationship to work with the patient on how to motivate them and how to improve their health, how to get them on to a journey to their own health improvement, which is a very different conversation then ‘We’re tracking you, you need to do this.’”

With the Proteus Discover system, not only does the patient’s doctor have access to the information the system tracks, but the patient themselves have that information, and the goal of Barton’s implementation is for that access to be empowering.

“Proteus’s approach, and our approach as well, is how do we engage our patients so they’re in the driver seat with the technology?” Purvance said. “So they’re using the technology to help them understand better what their own behaviors and patterns are. Some of that helps from an accountability standpoint because the technology also reminds them to use their medicines, and when we treat chronic diseases we know there’s always medication adherence issues even for the most willing of patients. But it is a tool really for them. And that is the right approach, I believe, to make this work well.”

Barton Health, a 62-bed health system in rural Lake Tahoe, California, began rolling out the technology in its primary care and cardiology clinics December 7th. They chose hypertension — and co-morbidities like diabetes and high cholesterol — as their starting use case because, despite not being a pilot, the implementation is still a learning process for both Barton and Proteus

“[We] are really approaching it from the standpoint of ‘how do we launch this for the purpose of improving the health of the patient?’ and then ‘how do we operationalize that so they actually have an approach like ours for community health systems throughout the nation?’” Purvance said. “Hypertension is measurable. As providers we can measure blood pressure and understand how it’s changing with medication use. That makes it very nice for studies and optimizing new tools and resources like this, because we can see what difference we can make.”

Purvance said that insights from the Proteus technology help individual patients adjust their lifestyle, but also provide system-wide insights into prescribing patterns and strengthen doctor-patient relationships.

Barton Health uses some telemedicine to provide specialty care to rural populations and has a focus on population health management, including wellness. Its business model is still mostly fee for service, though they’re starting to dip their toe into accountable care. But the hospital isn’t as heavily steeped in digital innovation as some. Still, Purvance says, in the first few weeks the technology has been almost universally well-received, by pharmacists, care providers, and patients alike.

“The biggest challenge we’ve had is that we launched it in December,” he said. “Right around the holidays, if you’re trying to manage chronic diseases, is often a time when patients aren’t that excited about managing their disease. There are bigger challenges around alcohol consumption and indulging in foods that might not be healthy for you, plus a lot of travel and stress. So I’d say that’s been one of our biggest challenges, just launching it right before the holiday season. Having said that, patients have been very excited about it, physicians have been very enthusiastic and our clinic staff have really been engaged in identifying patients that might benefit from the medicine.”