Innovation Pulse: Apple Watch in action

We all hear plenty of speculation about Apple’s Watch not being particularly useful — but it’s already proving itself at three major hospitals
By Tom Sullivan
10:14 AM
Apple Watch

It sounds almost shadowy and top-secret: An innovation wing in Louisiana is home to cutting-edge work undertaken by Apple, Epic and a tech-savvy provider. That would be Ochsner Health System.

Among the first-movers on Apple's HealthKit and ResearchKit, Ochsner lays claim to having already linked HealthKit with the Epic EHR, including patient-generated data. The network is also in early stages of testing how it can make use of the Apple Watch and other wearables in a clinical capacity – as are Duke Medicine and Stanford University, though each in different ways.

Innovation labs
Ochsner is among the many hospitals operating technology labs to create and test new software, tools or medical devices. What's unique about Ochsner, though, is the relationship with both Apple and Epic.

"This combination of having Apple and Epic developers allows us to try different things, they have carte blanche to go buy anything they want," Ochsner CIO Patrick Anderson said. "They can fail, they can fail fast and early. And if they hit a home run one out of ten times, that's a pretty big deal. That's our innovative culture here." 

[Read more Innovation Pulse columns]

Count the Watch among those contenders. In a pilot program involving hundreds of people with hypertension, Ochsner has given patients a Watch via which they receive reminders to take medications, weigh themselves, check their blood pressure and that data, in turn, is fed into their medical record. The software sends alerts on the case management side when it spots issues with a particular patient so Ochsner physicians can conduct an intervention and, ideally at least, avoid hospitalization or readmission.

Yet, that's just a start. Based on the success of that program, Anderson said that Ochsner is "seriously considering giving physicians the Watch," and so it's working with Apple and Epic to feed statistics into the device.

Always on the go
Whereas the physicians in Ochsner's clinics, and this is the case at most hospitals, are typically close to a computer, the same does not hold as true for specialists.

There's a cardiologist, for instance, who moves from the catheterization lab to the emergency room, then to check on patients, perhaps visit another department, before heading back to an office.

"We're working to make those results go to the Watch so that a physician can literally see a patient and review those stats walking down the hall," Anderson explained.

The emphasis, he added, is on keeping length-of-stay to a minimum. "It's in development now. The prototype is working but not production-ready," Anderson said.

"It's in our innovation lab so that's going to be coming."

O Bar
Modeling itself on Apple stores' Genius Bar, where customers can walk up and ask employees anything, Ochsner built what it calls the O Bar.

Here's how it works: A doctor recommends a particular app to a patient, who goes to the O Bar, uses an Ochsner iPad to test out apps and then downloads those to their own phone.

Not exclusive
Lest this appear to be an Apple, Epic and Ochsner ménage a trois, the relationship does not limit them from using other vendors' technologies.

"We're prototyping a non-Apple device that goes on the wrist to measure vitals, driving pulse, temperature and O2 statistics directly to Epic," Anderson explained. "That's in our innovation wing right now, and that seems to be working. So we'll look to expand that."

As noted, Apple and Epic are also working with hospitals including Duke and Stanford.

Stanford launched the MyHeart Counts app earlier this year to monitor heart rate as part of wide-ranging research into cardiovascular disease by enabling participants to download the software to their iPhone, answer questions about risk factors and track basic readings.

Duke, for its part, has armed providers with the Watch to use with Epic Haiku for several months now, according to Ricky Bloomfield, MD, director of Duke's mobile technology strategy. Doctors have access to information including lab results, messages and appointments.

Bloomfield added that Duke has also made it available to its patients that use Epic MyChart.

The innovative work that is happening, in Anderson's words: "Put simply: Nobody else is doing that in the world."

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