Health systems are taking a page from Apple’s playbook, debuting Genius Bar-style technology support stations in their lobbies to talk tech with patients.
That means setting up sleek technology support desks that showcase digital health tools like apps, internet-connected medical devices and wearables, and staffing teams of technology specialists to teach patients how to use new data-driven tools. But they’re more than just a way to showcase flashy new technology.
“I wasn’t looking to be a salesman for Apple or Google or any of those folks,” said Inspira Health Network CEO John DiAngelo of the New Jersey-based system’s decision to open two technology and wearables bars, dubbed Inspira Health+, in 2017. “It had to be related to our wellness program, and it had to work for our patients.”
Anyone, even those who aren’t patients, can try out and even buy devices and wearables vetted by Inspira staff at the Health+ bars. But Inspira’s vision was to test whether wearables could support patients with chronic conditions, who might benefit from care teams regularly monitoring data through connected scales, glucometers and pulse oximeters.
Early findings have been promising. Patients enrolled in Inspira’s wearables program reported being able to control physical discomfort and emotional distress related to their condition 20% to 50% better than before participation in the program, according to a clinical trial completed late last year.
Patients referred to a Health+ bar by a care coordinator receive their wearable device at no cost, said Dave Johnson, Inspira’s vice president of innovation. “And those are not reimbursable for us, because it’s considered part of their inpatient stay,” he added.
But it pays off, according to Johnson, since with simple biometric monitoring and oversight from the care team, “we’re able to avoid (patients) being readmitted back into the hospital.”
Only one of the 21 patients included in Inspira’s clinical trial was readmitted within 30 days of discharge. The device cost for the trial, which ran for 10 months, was roughly $600 per patient.
Patients and community members who are not referred by a member of an Inspira care team can also purchase devices from the Health+ bars. Those are sold at the same cost Inspira paid for the product. “We’re not trying to make a profit from the program in any way,” Johnson said.
Health technology bars like Health+ are part of an emerging strategy hospitals are testing to meet patients’ growing interest in digital health tools.
Use of wearables has tripled since 2014, according to a report from consulting firm Accenture. And with nearly half of consumers reporting they’ve used at least one mobile or tablet health app, there’s a need for quality control, said Brian Kalis, Accenture’s managing director of digital health. Some of these tech bars take on that role, helping to differentiate solutions that “are of higher quality, and have some clinical efficacy, from all the noise,” Kalis said.
He said hospitals cite attracting new patients, engaging existing patients and improving health outcomes—not profit—as the business rationale for experimenting with technology bars that showcase health apps and wearables.
“We’re in the early stages of experimenting with the value case,” he said. “There’s that common thread of continually looking for ways to be relevant to people and people’s expectations.”
Ochsner Health System in Louisiana uses its O Bar program to underpin the health system’s digital medicine programs, which tackle chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. As part of enrollment for these programs, doctors will often refer patients to one of Ochsner’s seven O Bar sites to pick up wearables and medical equipment.
The O Bar, which also offers to connect visitors with more than 100 apps vetted by Ochsner staff, was modeled as a “Genius Bar for healthcare technology,” according to Aimee Quirk, CEO of Ochsner’s innovation lab called innovationOchsner.
“We wanted to accelerate adoption of digital health tools for health and wellness,” she said of Ochsner’s decision to open its first O Bar in 2014. “So we drew inspiration from retail experiences that consumers were already accustomed to.”
The O Bar, which averages between 24,000 and 38,000 visits per year, is part of Ochsner’s belief that the future of healthcare will “depend on being able to be more connected to our patients,” Quirk said. That’s particularly true for chronic conditions, which are “impacted by decisions we make every day,” she added.