Why an engaged clinician makes all the difference in digital health

A common myth about digital health is that it’s intended to replace the clinician in the patient’s life. Some people believe that when digital health is ubiquitous, patients will rely on digital tools to manage their care rather than providers, and office visits will be a thing of the past.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, digital health is a companion to a thriving, productive relationship between patient and clinician, and when a clinician is involved in helping a patient use a digital health platform, the results may go beyond what a patient can accomplish on their own.

In 2016, Propeller partnered with JenCare Senior Medical Center in Louisville, Kentucky, to equip 190 patients with COPD with Propeller’s digital health platform, which is made up of connected inhaler sensors, a companion app and web-based platforms that provide feedback on the patient’s progress to both patient and provider.

This was far from the first program of its kind, but it was unique in one way: The clinicians were heavily involved in the patients’ digital health experience, from the first introduction of Propeller all the way through the program.

The clinicians not only helped their patients enroll and get comfortable with the Propeller technology, they used the data from Propeller to monitor and manage their patients’ progress over time. Between the patients’ regular office visits, the clinicians were able to review the data and recommend adjustments to the patient’s treatment plan if necessary.

The JenCare patients were monitored over the course of a year. At three, six and 12 months, patients demonstrated significant reductions in daily rescue medication use and nighttime rescue medication use for their COPD, as well as an increase in days without symptoms necessitating rescue use.

By the end of that year, the patients’ daily use of rescue medication had decreased by 59% and days without symptoms necessitating rescue use had increased by 36%.

Clinician involvement not only helped drive positive clinical outcomes, it also helped keep patients engaged in their program. Previous studies have suggested that for patients in a clinician-absent digital health program, engagement tends to fall off early on. The JenCare study was different. At six months, 81% of patients had stayed in the program, and 90% were actively using Propeller to manage their condition.

These results give us a powerful example for how to structure successful digital health programs going forward. To design a program that benefits both patient and clinician, we recommend:

  • Involving clinicians in the program design from the beginning to ensure it’s set up to work for them
  • Identifying patients who are a good fit for the program and who are open to using a digital tool to manage their health
  • Encouraging the clinical team to enroll the patient in-office, to maximize patient comfort and familiarity with the digital health tool
  • Ensuring that clinicians have access and training to effectively use the digital tools without it being burdensome and time-intensive
  • Incorporating review of the data into the standard of care and existing patient visits

Clinicians are the heart and soul of the healthcare system, and a digital health tool like Propeller enables them to keep doing what they do best: treat their patient, armed with the best possible information on their condition. If you have questions about setting up Propeller in your clinic, please reach out to [email protected].