Illinois medical group to use Apple Watch in disease management pilot

By Aditi Pai
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Apple WatchSpringfield, Illinois-based Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS) has launched a pilot program to examine how nurses and physicians can integrate the Apple Watch into the medical group's Advanced Medical Home program.

HSHS' Advanced Medical Home program, which has a total of 1,100 patients, uses nurse navigators to offer specialized care to high-risk patients with chronic diseases. While the patients in this program are also participating in face-to-face visits, the program plans to expand their health monitoring efforts by using the Apple Watch and potentially other healthcare tools.

"When I think about connectivity and using applications and remote monitoring technology, I see two big baskets," HSHS Medical Group Chief Quality Officer Andrew Bland told MobiHealthNews. "First is the consumer side, which is what the Apple Watch, iPhone, etc exists in. And the second is intensive medical monitoring. For us right now would mean FDA-compliant devices with security and HIPAA protection."

On the consumer side, Bland said, it would be beneficial for patients to track their health and ask questions if they notice variations in their heart rate, blood pressure, or weight. He explained that while a doctor could look at the data and say 'Yeah, I think this is absolutely normal, what this shows is your heart rate variability and your exercise intensity are entirely appropriate for what you're doing. Keep doing this,' he could also say 'You know there is some cause for concern with what we're looking at and we need to do further testing.'

The Apple Watch, which was unveiled in early September, will track movement through a built-in accelerometer and heart rate through optical sensors in the back of the device. It will extrapolate further data from the GPS and WiFi on the user’s iPhone. The Apple Watch is set to launch in early 2015, so the HSHS pilot is planning to begin shortly after its launch. 

"Our plan is to give [the Apple Watches] to our nurse navigators to take a look at, to use, to test, and to find out what information is there and compare it to ensure that it's reliable so we know where the shortcomings are," Bland said. "I've seen some great apps demoed for the iPhone that allow you to take your own pulse rate or even measure your own oxygen saturation. I just want to make sure that as we're giving medical advice that the data is reliable and we understand the shortfalls."

When the pilot starts, the team will recruit between 25 and 50 patients from the Advanced Medical Home program to participate. In the mean time, Bland said the health system will continue piloting other healthcare tools. HSHS plans to start by piloting tools from company Peoria, Illinois-based iCuro.

"The second piece that we're looking at is using some more validated devices to help manage those patients who are ill and to help keep them out of the hospital," Bland said. "Within the HSHS health system, we are already using electronic weight [scales] where the weight is recorded and sent in and the navigator can see that someone who has heart failure has gained weight and talk to them about their diet and perhaps taking more of their water medicine to lower their weight. That’s something that's already being piloted."

"We're looking to take that a little bit further and provide a more intensive suite of monitoring solutions such as, not only weight, but a blood pressure cuff, and combine that with a stethoscope, combine that with the ability to do mobile EKGs," he said, "and have that information flow to a navigator who’s able to then say 'Here's what you need to do next.'"

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