Axial Exchange Aims to Keep Patients Healthy Outside the Hospital

8/4/14Follow @wroush

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a tool that helps patients remember which medications they’re supposed to take every day, and when.

That’s a lot of functions to pour into one app—and it puts the startup into competition with quite a few other digital-health players. But Rohde says the integration is one of the reasons hospitals like the app. “The reality is that your Starbucks knows more about you when you’re out of the hospital than your healthcare providers do,” she says. “We give healthcare institutions a high-resolution picture of their population.”

Axial Exchange’s customer base spans 13 healthcare systems representing 70 hospitals, which isn’t a bad start. But the company’s main hurdle, Rohde says, is that hospitals are only slowly waking up to the idea that they should be staying in touch with discharged patients through their mobile devices. Only 6 percent of the 3,000 hospitals in the United States offer any kind of mobile app to their patients, she says. “This is not a mainstream thing yet. The rate of decision-making in healthcare is very slow.”

One of the keys to winning more customers will be compiling hard data to show that patients who use the Axial Exchange app have lower rates of complication or readmission. “We have done some one-off studies on readmission that are pretty impressive—we have been able to move the needle 30 percent,” Rohde says. But it will take large, peer-reviewed, published studies to get more hospitals interested. Given that Axial Exchange didn’t have a meaningful installed base until early 2013, it will take another six to nine months to collect the data, Rohde says.

Meanwhile, Axial Exchange still has some success selling its app to healthcare organizations as an engagement tool, Rohde says. Customers get access to a dashboard that shows them measures like reach (the percentage of a hospital’s patients who download the app), retention (the percentage who keep using it after 30 days), and self-care (the percentage using the information or medication-management tools). That’s useful data to have at a time when the price a hospital can bring from a potential acquirer depends in part on the health, demographics, and revenue-generating potential of its patient population.

“What’s driving healthcare right now is a land-grab mentality,” Rohde says. “You see one hospital buying up another, trying to get the biggest patient population under their care that they can before the revenue-per-patient is capped [under bundled, performance-based reimbursement]. Every hospital in the country is trying to get the best group of privately insured patients that they can.”

For years now, Scripps Institute director Eric Topol, a cardiologist and genetics researcher, has been telling his fellow doctors that they should consider prescribing health apps to their patients, rather than just drugs. Rohde thinks the time may soon come when hospitals do the same for all discharged patients. And not just to reduce rehospitalization rates, but to keep their customers happy.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • jonkernpa

    I imagine this approach will work wonders with an engaged patient population. I like my gadgets, I like tracking & graphing (longitudinal) my blood tests results, I think I would be an interested user of such a mobile app. It is a great idea to bring this all to the fingertips of smartphone users. It will definitely cut down costs and improve folks’ lives to be more in touch and engaged. After all, as my wife (a physical therapist in long-term care facilities) always says about healthcare, you have to advocate for yourself.

    But, I wonder what *percentage* of the post-hospitalization re-admits are tied to apathetic folks who: (a) don’t pay for their care in the first place, so are not motivated to stay out of the ED, (b) are not motivated to do better with their health, (c) exhibit traits belying their lack of attention to being healthy, (d) do not have or care to use technology. All the whiz-bang technology in the world will not overcome apathy and complacency. And if the apathetic patient population disproportionately drives up the health care costs for all, we still have a major unsolved problem as a society.