GetWellNetwork: reducing inequities and shaping healthcare
Michael O’Neil is the founder and CEO of GetWellNetwork, a global digital healthcare company that aims to encourage people's involvement in their own care. Here he tells us why the healthcare sector must prioritise inequities in access to care, and how technology can enable this.
When and why was GetWellNetwork founded?
I started GetWellNetwork on the notion that patients could, and should, be more involved in their healthcare journey. Following my own surgery and treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 28, I was inspired to help others navigate the complicated US healthcare system, believing more empowered and engaged patients lead to better outcomes.
When I started the company in 2000, I was focused on improving patient outcomes through patient and family engagement with a concept we created called Interactive Patient Care. Now, more than two decades later with more than 300 teammates, I am humbled by the evolution and growth of the business and the partnerships we have with so many innovative organisations.
Today, GetWellNetwork’s solutions help more than 10 million patients annually across four continents to have a voice and control over their own healthcare journey.
How is GetWellNetwork tackling healthcare inequities?
Many people face barriers to healthcare because of their social determinants of health, which can encompass race, ethnicity, immigration status, age, and geographic location, to name a few. Social determinants should never dictate health outcomes or the level of care a patient receives.
In early spring 2020, as the COVID-19 threat was quickly emerging, it became apparent that Black and African-American patients were being disproportionately affected by the virus. We knew we needed to help healthcare organisations quickly provide patients with critical information.
To help ensure COVID-19 messaging was understandable and actionable, while also keeping health literacy and health equity in mind, we established a COVID-19 Clinical Advisory Committee. This committee was vital to helping us scale our digital care management solution GetWell Loop for patients and care teams to manage their COVID-19 response. The solution enables care teams to engage and monitor patients across different levels of care through automated virtual check-ins. Through this platform we are able to provide important information and resources for individuals of all cultures and backgrounds.
Overall, our customised digital care management solutions have been deployed at more than 200 organisations and impacted over 600,000 COVID-19 patients.
During a time when patients were reluctant or even unable to see their healthcare providers in person, GetWell Loop offered patients a way to manage aspects of their healthcare from their personal smartphones, tablets and computers, making it more comfortable for patients and also increasing accessibility.
If we can reach patients on the modality they are accustomed to, we have a better chance of engaging them and helping them manage their own healthcare, leading to a better overall experience and improved health outcomes.
GetWellNetwork has just acquired Docent Health, what capabilities will this company provide you?
Docent Health has delivered impressive outcomes in some of the largest healthcare systems in the United States, offering inspiring programmes aimed at disadvantaged populations and health disparities.
Docent Health’s AI-driven text messaging platform to guides patients to the “next best step” in their care across episodes, a critical time when patients often don’t know what additional services they need or are at risk of seeking care outside of their home network.
With Docent Health we have an opportunity to expand our tools, widen our networks, and better reach the organisations and patients that need our help. Together, we are able to leverage intelligent, real-time text messaging to make it easier for patients to receive care across episodes, while driving meaningful outcomes for communities most in need.
Docent Health is providing technology to non-profit healthcare provider CommonSpirit, with the aim of reaching vulnerable populations. What does this involve?
CommonSpirit is the largest non-profit health system in the US. It was formed in 2019 by the alignment of Catholic Health Initiatives and Dignity Health, and has more than 1,000 care sites across 21 states. Its extensive work advocating for social justice and providing access to quality care for everyone is truly commendable.
CommonSpirit and Docent Health have partnered since 2016 on a common goal: helping underserved communities by reaching individuals no matter their circumstances. The work CommonSpirit has done integrating technology and healthcare is helping to shape the future of the healthcare industry. From a range of community health programmes to virtual care services, CommonSpirit helps address the root causes of poor health with both compassionate care and cutting-edge technology.
For example, a multi-year study of the outcomes of 10,000 CommonSpirit patients using Docent’s program found a 37% reduction in preterm births among mothers on Medicaid and a 71% drop in 30-day readmission rates for orthopaedic patients.
Docent’s robust engagement model analyses numerous patient attributes and tracks CommonSpirit’s resources to local, community-based organisations, and provides virtual care navigators beyond the hospital room. The software uses patient data and artificial intelligence to predict patient care needs and refer patients to relevant services, leading to better health outcomes.
How should healthcare providers be using technology to reduce gaps in care?
Healthcare providers must prioritise the glaring health equity issues and social determinants that can dictate health outcomes, and technology can be a great solution to help reach those who are underserved.
According to a recent Pew Research survey, a substantial majority of Americans (85%) own a smartphone. Smartphone use among Black and Hispanic Americans is similar, coming in at 83% and 85%, respectively. Such high smartphone use makes text-based communication and health-based apps great tools for healthcare providers to reach their patients directly, but it also means that there is a portion of the population for whom these interventions don’t reach.
Direct and personalised communications from healthcare providers can help to minimise the impact of healthcare disparities among vulnerable populations. In fact, when LifeBridge Health, a five-hospital system in Baltimore, MD, used GetWell Loop during the pandemic, they saw 15% higher engagement for Black or African-American patients.
Additionally, by leveraging artificial intelligence technology, providers can quickly coordinate a personalised care experience, enabling healthcare organisations to efficiently and effectively capture the social needs of their patients. This allows them to more quickly identify areas for targeted intervention, improving the individual patient experience while also improving their overall health and wellbeing.
For CommonSpirit, for example, this end-to-end solution opened the door to engage populations at-scale with personalised support, across all points of care and to drive meaningful outcomes for the most vulnerable communities.
There is still room for improvement and innovation in this space. Integrating technology-driven patient engagement platforms into healthcare systems is a good step toward delivering personalised care that can be tailored to each patient’s unique social and medical needs, but it’s just a first step.
Advances in health "must ensure self-sovereign identity"
The UK government has announced that from September onwards COVID-19 vaccine passports will be necessary to gain entry into places with large crowds, such as nightclubs.
This has reignited the debate between those who believe having proof of vaccinations will enable people to gather in public places and travel safely, and those who view the digital certificates as an attack on personal freedom.
The arguments have increased in intensity since the recent announcement to drop COVID-19 restrictions in England, in a move to reopen the economy that has attracted fierce criticism both domestically and overseas.
Cross-party ministers are set to defy the government’s latest plans to introduce vaccine passports over civil liberties concerns. A number of MPs have already signed the Big Brother Watch declaration against “Covid status certification to deny individuals access to general services, businesses or jobs” in recent months.
However Mark Shaw, CEO of Tento Applied Sciences, says the Big Brother Watch campaign is based on false assumptions. “Big Brother Watch puts forward a compelling argument based around civil liberties, but some of the assumptions they make are simply incorrect” he says.
“For example, the BBW campaign claims that all Covid passes are discriminatory, counterproductive and would lead to British citizens having to share personal health information with anyone in authority, from bouncers to bosses. However, there are already privacy-first digital wallets that give individuals the freedom to store and share anonymised medical documents, work credentials and other types of documentation quickly, simply, and securely.
“I wholeheartedly agree that individuals should not be required to share their own personal health information with unknown third parties or with anyone in authority who demands it" Shaw adds. "But I strongly disagree with the suggestion that ‘events and businesses are either safe to open for everyone, or no one’. It creates a false dichotomy that either everyone is safe, or nobody is safe. If employers or event organisers don’t take action to properly manage workplace or venue safety, then they risk curtailing the safety and freedom of movement for the majority."
The subject of personal health data is under scrutiny in the UK at the moment, following controversial plans for the NHS to share patient data with third parties. These have been put on hold following public criticism.
Meanwhile a new report has found that the majority of the British public is willing to embrace digital healthcare tools such as apps and digital therapies prescribed by a trusted healthcare professional.
Shaw adds: “The vital point to make is this: innovations in health technology must ensure self-sovereign identity. This means the data held about an individual is owned by the individual and stored on their device. And, in the case of medical data, that data can be delivered from healthcare professionals to the device in an encrypted format, and the user chooses how they share their information."