How Providence St. Joseph Health is using tech to engage, empower patients

By Jonah Comstock
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Dr. Amy Compton-Phillips, EVP and chief clinical officer at Renton, Washington-based Providence St. Joseph Health, took the stage today at the HIMSS Media Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum to discuss how her organization uses digital tools to engage and empower patients.

“We stole our chief digital officer from Amazon,” Compton-Phillips said. “He’s the guy who pretty much led building the Kindle. His mantra is ‘It’s all about the interface’. You just gotta make it easy to do the right thing. So our early foray into digital was to make sure that we could access care from anywhere using that device in your hand.”

Patients at Providence St. Joseph can access traditional telemedicine, app-enabled house calls, and appointment booking services, and they’re all designed with a consumer tech mindset.

“We’ve built scheduling tools that look very much like Open Table, we’ve built our virtual care app so it looks exactly like FaceTime, uses the same type of buttons, so it’s very easy,” Compton-Phillips said. “We used to say back when I was at [Kaiser Permanente] that ‘we need to train patients’ to do something. Well you don’t train patients. You make intuitive interfaces that make it easy to use.”

While connecting patients to providers using technology was the start, the health system decided to move in the direction of creating and digital resources for patients to manage their health and wellness at home.

The first such app Providence St. Joseph launched was a pregnancy tracker Compton-Phillips described as “a digital version of What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, but in addition to providing information linked to the user’s stage of pregnancy, it also integrated with the user’s electronic health record to deliver context-specific health reminders. Then building off of that app, the health system created apps for parents of children up to age 18.

Through its spinout Xealth, doctors at Providence St. Joseph can prescribe apps to patients, including digital therapeutics like Omada’s prediabetes program or an app for end-of-life planning that includes video explanations of different procedures.

“If you have a serious illness and you want to know what your options are around end-of-life care, we have this app with advanced care planning videos that help explain what it’s like to have CPR or to have feeding if you’re unconscious. So people can know what they’re signing up for with end of life directives. It’s really hard to have this conversation at the office; it’s really easy to go home and watch on your computer the videos and come back and have a conversation with a clinician,” she said.

New endeavors at the health center revolve around precision medicine. Working with partners, Providence St. Joseph is developing an opt-in system by which data from patients’ records and genomes can be used for health coaching.

All these initiatives are based on the idea of a patient as a partner in his or her own care, Compton-Phillips said.

“Fundamentally, the most underutilized person in healthcare is the patient,” she said. “How do we actually work with the patient so they can be much more effective at providing their own healthcare in a way that’s much more satisfying for them?”