Wendy Swanberg, Communications Coordinator, Project HealthDesign National Program Office
A few weeks back, I had the privilege of coordinating (and then watching) Project HealthDesign’s webinar, “From the iPhone to the EMR: Can patients’ personal health data improve their clinical care?” The hour-long webinar provided a good, succinct summary of this seven-year project. As someone who had recently joined Project HealthDesign as it enters its final months, I gained a lot of insight from the reflections of those who have shepherded the project from its inception.
I’d already come to understand the significance of Observations of Daily Living (ODLs), the main discovery to have emerged from the work of PHD’s fourteen grantee teams. But until the webinar presentation by Michael Christopher (“Chris”) Gibbons, I didn’t appreciate how Project HealthDesign’s seven-year evolution fit into the larger portrait of technology-enhanced health care.
Dr. Gibbons joined PHD’s National Advisory Committee in 2006 when the project was first defining itself. “I have been able to be with the project from the beginning,” Gibbons said in the webinar, “and had the opportunity to look at not only the internal growing pains, but how the project has evolved through broader changes that were happening in our society . . ." Among those societal changes are:
- Prevalence of chronic disease
- Burgeoning of the senior population
- Increasing longevity
- Rising healthcare costs
- Growing population of minorities, immigrants & underserved
Looking at our second round of grantee work from that perspective: The dwellSense project is relevant to every one of these changes. Both the iN Touch project focusing on inner city teens struggling with obesity, and Estrellita’s work on care for premature infants, show how technology might help mitigate the cost and improve the effectiveness of health care among growing populations of the underserved. And the research conducted by BreathEasy on people with asthma and Chronology.MD on patients with Crohn’s disease showed how attention to ODLs can make real contributions to the management of chronic conditions.
Yet beyond those real-time contributions, Dr. Gibbons pointed out how the project has helped to shape two broader trends in health care. “In my mind, as the Project HealthDesign project moved forward over these years with Robert Wood Johnson [Foundation], they really contributed in two main areas to help shape the broader trends.” Gibbons calls these trends functional innovation and knowledge innovation.
Even before Project HealthDesign was launched, the healthcare industry had begun to embrace the function of personal health records (PHRs), primarily as repositories for data that clinicians found important. “What we found is,” Gibbons said, “while that is important, there are other types of information that patients think important that traditionally and historically clinicians have not necessarily considered as important.“ The project’s timing is important here -- it was able to help define the function of PHRs while that function was still in flux. “Project HealthDesign helped [clinicians] to broaden the perspective on the types of information, the types of data that could conceivably be important and that should go into a personal health record, and also pushed the envelope on the types of platforms and tools, devices to use to collect this information.”
In the realm of knowledge innovation, Dr. Gibbons points to the project’s focus on Observations of Daily Living as “the key innovation in this area as we go forward.” By folding ODLs into the healthcare mix, patients across the socioeconomic spectrum can enrich the quality of their health care. “We had underserved populations, we had low-income populations. We had elders, seniors, who many think are not in line in any way.”
Through the work of fourteen teams of grantees, this seven-year project has employed technological innovation to address new healthcare challenges raised by changes in the socioeconomic contour of our population. By doing so, Project HealthDesign has made important contributions to the future direction of modern health care.Dr. Gibbons' final comment was a perfect summary of the webinar, and maybe of the project over all as it enters its final few months: “I think the Project HealthDesign project over time, in the context of these broader changes, has really now set the bar for developers to make vastly improved tools that will help both clinicians, and lead to better outcomes for patients.”