Despite COVID-19 Challenges, Primary Care Practice Improves Patient Health Using Digital Tools

Lifestyle Medical, a Southern California-based primary care practice which had built a range of digital tools into their patient care process

This was originally featured in Healthcare IT Today.

With COVID-19 transmission risks remaining high, many medical practices have been forced to change their business model from one built on face-to-face appointments to delivering patient care via telehealth visits virtually overnight. The transition has been a big challenge for many practices, some of which had been offering few if any telehealth services before the pandemic hit.

However, some groups were ahead of the game and playing a good ground game already, which has made it much easier for them to keep meeting their goals in the telehealth-driven new normal. Those practices include Lifestyle Medical, a Southern California-based primary care practice which had built a range of digital tools into their patient care process.

The practice has a tight focus on helping patients change their behavior to manage chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease more effectively. According to a case study prepared by their digital health vendor Carium, the practice was already seeing substantial improvements in patients’ BMI, HbA1c and LDL cholesterol before the virus emerged as a threat. By using digital tools, the practice has been able to maintain its patient management process despite the stresses imposed by the current health crisis, the vendor reports.

Even before COVID-19 care became a concern, Lifestyle Medical already employed physicians with training in lifestyle intervention and behavior teams, as well as health coaches, and supported patients in communicating with the practice using a mobile health app.

In late 2019, the practice launched a remote patient monitoring program using Carium technology. Part of what made Lifestyle Medical’s digital health investment possible is that RPM is now a covered service under Medicare, allowing providers to bill up to $123 per patient per month.

Rather than blanket-enrolling everyone, the practice has encouraged patients to opt in to RPM, which seems to be working to build loyalty, the Carium case study suggests, with a month-over-month user retention rate of 96% over a three month period.

The practice spends about 30 minutes to enroll a patient in the RPM program, including an initial phone call with the health coach to see if the patient can use the app and to determine whether prescribed connected medical devices are connected to it.

Lifestyle Medical has dedicated four health coaches to running the program, who work with population-level dashboards to track the patients’ biometric data and understand their needs. The system alerts them when a patient needs a one-on-one coaching intervention or the involvement of a physician.

The Carium case study doesn’t address this, but it’s likely one reason why Lifestyle’s patients are interested in participating in the RPM platform is that they’re are starting to understand the benefits of such technologies.

In fact, a recent survey by another digital health vendor found that one in three respondents had trouble tracking their key health statistics, and that 90% of respondents felt that they’d be able to better manage their chronic health conditions if they had access to a specialized remote health monitoring device.