Propeller CEO: Engagement, Environment Among Population Health Keys

Xconomy Wisconsin — 

Hospitals and other healthcare organizations are turning to high-tech tools to help them adapt to the shift to so-called value-based care, where providers are paid based on patient outcomes, rather than the quantity of patient visits and services delivered.

Those tools include population health management software, a sector seeing increased competition as demand from healthcare providers grows, as Xconomy explored in a story earlier this week. The software allows users to pool data from various sources on patients with similar conditions, in order to spot trends and make more informed decisions about their care. Some of those sources are electronic health records (EHR) systems used at hospitals and clinics, results from clinical lab tests, and claims sent to insurers.

But caring for populations of patients can also involve pulling in data collected by sensors that patients carry around with them all day. For instance, Propeller Health is working with collaborators—some of whom are large pharmaceuticals companies like Novartis, Boehringer Ingelheim, and Aptar Pharma—to develop Internet-connected inhalers to help healthcare providers care for patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The Madison, WI-based company’s digital platform combines information from sensors, mobile apps, and software analytics.

Here are highlights from a recent e-mail exchange between Xconomy and David Van Sickle, co-founder and CEO of Propeller Health. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity:

Xconomy: What should leaders at healthcare organizations seeking to better manage patients with asthma or COPD know about how Propeller’s platform might help in that effort?

David Van Sickle: Effective population health management programs identify the most costly or at-risk patients and deliver them more intensive care and management. But many patients who are expensive in one year do not remain so in the next. Data from EHRs and medical claims can only show patients who were expensive in the past, which may not be an accurate or reliable predictor of who will be expensive today or tomorrow.

Emerging tools and platforms, like Propeller, generate new data and analytics to allow risk stratification in near-real-time. Propeller passively collects data on a patient’s current health status: current disease control; recent changes in symptoms and rescue bronchodilator use; current levels of environmental triggers that could lead to increased symptoms; current community disease trends; and current medication adherence. These data can be used to determine which patients need more attention or more intensive care management today. Modern population management programs that incorporate these new data streams will better identify patients who could benefit from the added expense of more intensive intervention.

X: Has Propeller been a significant part of population health management programs at any of the organizations that have used or piloted Propeller’s platform?

DVS: Yes. The majority of our commercial programs, at organizations such as Dignity Health, support care managers in their efforts to manage populations of patients with chronic respiratory disease. Propeller helps them work more efficiently and effectively by providing insight into the patients most in need of their attention today.

X: Propeller has discussed some of the potential longer-term, bigger-picture impacts its products could have (for example, analyzing inhaler usage trends to make conclusions about air quality, and deciding to plant more trees or allow less traffic near a school). What are some of the other types of data that, when combined with information collected by Propeller-made sensors, could potentially lead to these insights and actions?

DVS: At Propeller, we’re interested in understanding all of the factors that influence a person’s respiratory health. In addition to collecting data on medication use, we evaluate information about the local environment (air quality, temperature, humidity, pollen levels), seasonal variability, location data, traffic patterns, symptom patterns and patient reports from the community. We use advanced analytics to combine and make sense of these data streams so that we’re able to provide individuals with clues to the triggers of their symptoms, and practical advice about how to avoid or mitigate those exposures.

X: Can Propeller’s platform be set up to exchange data with the software developed by EHR vendors and other companies that are more narrowly focused on population health software?

DVS: Yes, we believe the data collected by Propeller should be accessible wherever it can be most useful. To facilitate those connections we have a complete and robust set of easy-to-implement application programming interfaces (APIs). We have existing integrations into electronic health records systems, population management software products, and care coordination software products.

X: Many organizations have mentioned “patient engagement” as being a key part of population health strategies. How might connected inhalers help make patients more engaged in their care?

DVS: By connecting inhalers, Propeller can create a digital experience to accompany a person’s medications, making them more convenient, accessible, and personal. With passively collected data about the use of their inhalers, we help people remember to take their daily medications, teach them about their patterns and disease status, and provide some understanding of what is causing their symptoms. This kind of specific and personal information makes it easier for people to engage with their medical care and strengthens their collaboration with their physician.