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A Hospital Is Already Giving Apple Watch To Its Patients

Written by: | readers@forbes.com | Dated: Friday, April 24th, 2015

The Apple Watch began arriving in homes and businesses across America on Friday.

And in New Orleans, one doctor immediately strapped it to his patient’s wrist.

“We need to fundamentally change behavior,” says that doctor — Richard Milani. “And the Apple Watch has the potential to [do] it.”

Milani is the Chief Clinical Transformation Officer at Ochsner Health System, and overseeing what the hospital calls a first-of-its-kind trial: Giving Apple Watch to patients who struggle with high blood pressure, and seeing if it prompts them to take their medication, to make positive changes in lifestyle, and simply, to just get up and move around.

And Milani believes that the potential opportunity is huge: More than 80% of U.S. health care spending goes toward chronic disease. And many of those diseases are exceedingly preventable.

Apple Watch part of Ochsner’s broader strategy

While it doesn’t have the national profile of some health systems, Ochsner has been working hard to be a leader in digital medicine.

  • More than a year ago, the hospital launched an “O Bar” — deliberately modeled on Apple’s Genius Bar — to help patients pick through the thousands of health and wellness apps available to them.
  • Six months ago, Ochsner became the first hospital to integrate its Epic electronic health record system with Apple’s HealthKit software.
  • And in February, Ochsner launched its “Hypertension Digital Medicine Program,” a pilot program where several hundred patients regularly measure their own blood pressure and heart rate ratings using wireless cuffs, which then send that data through Apple’s HealthKit (and collects it in their medical records). Based on the results, Ochsner staff then make real-time adjustments to the patients’ medication and lifestyle.

The new Apple Watch trial builds off the hospital’s existing digital medicine program, Milani says. And he began Friday’s pilot with his longtime patient Andres Rubiano, a 54-year-old who’s spent the past twenty years trying to manage his chronic hypertension.

Rubiano says that his two months participating in Ochsner’s digital medicine program have been “comforting” — he enjoys the constant monitoring — and have already led him to make changes in diet and exercise.

“It’s been a life-changer for me,” he says.

But the Apple Watch has the potential to go further. Its customized alerts and prompts encourage immediate interventions. When we spoke on Friday afternoon, just six hours or so after he began wearing the Apple Watch, Rubiano raved about the subtle taps on his wrist.

“It’s like I have Milani as my buddy right next to me,” Rubiano said, “just nudging me to get up off your [behind] and walk around, or saying, hey, take your meds.”

Ochsner patient Andres Rubiano models his new Apple Watch, alongside his doctor, Richard Milani. (Photo c/o Ochsner Health System.)

Ochsner patient Andres Rubiano models his new Apple Watch, alongside his doctor, Richard Milani. (Photo c/o Ochsner Health System.)

Milani acknowledges there’s limited evidence that wearable technologies can directly lead to the health improvements he’s hoping to see.

But he plans to quickly enroll about two dozen patients in his Apple Watch trial, in order to begin collecting data on whether the Watch is actually making a difference. (Other patients in the hypertension program will act as the control group.) And he’s optimistic that wearable technology will pay dividends in health.

“For whatever reason, health care doesn’t do a very good job of creating [the necessary] behavior change,” Milani says. “But many of these new technologies have that ability.”

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Source: Forbes Health

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