July 25, 2019
With 86 cents of every healthcare dollar spent treating people with chronic disease, health leaders have increasingly focused on ways to better manage the care of patients with these illnesses so they can avoid debilitating downturns in their health—as well as costly interventions like emergency room visits and hospital admissions.
Yet, for all the attention these new care arrangements have received, there are patients with certain chronic conditions who would greatly benefit from these initiatives, but are being overlooked.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s, for example, affects 3.1 million Americans and causes 1.3 million doctor visits and 92,000 hospitalizations each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Treating these patients costs more than $6.3 billion annually, more than half of which is spent on hospital care.
Unlike other diseases such as hypertension, obesity, liver disease and even diabetes, patients with IBD have frequent symptoms: diarrhea, abdominal and joint pain, among others. They get accustomed to these symptoms and live in a ‘new normal.’ Because of this, they often miss warning signs, and their conditions can deteriorate rapidly, leading to bowel obstructions, fistulas, gastrointestinal bleeds and infections. As symptoms worsen, it becomes more likely that they’ll need to be hospitalized and treated with high-cost therapeutics.
Sonar MD calls these conditions “high beta” and is working to stop undetected complications from becoming a cause for hospitalization.
In between physician visits, we collect data directly from patients and then use this information to uncover changes in patient health that might otherwise go undetected. Our in-house clinical experts communicate with patients in real-time, asking questions about their symptoms to which they can respond to via text, email or a phone call. Using information on the severity of their symptoms, we calculate a patient “Sonar Score.” Tracking the score over time shows us who’s at risk of deteriorating, and we work with the patient’s care team to intervene when necessary.
When a gastroenterologists detects and addresses a patient’s worsening symptoms sooner, they are more likely to stay out of the hospital. And it’s proven to work. A recent study conducted with data from SonarMD and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois compared a group of patients with Crohn’s disease who used the digital care coordination solution to detect worsening symptoms to a group that did not. The first group saw annual medical costs drop by $6,500 per person because they were able to avoid going to an outpatient clinic or hospital.
This new approach to patient engagement and monitoring is improving access to care, health outcomes and lowering costs. A Crohn’s patient from the Chicago suburbs who uses SonarMD technology was called into her gastroenterologist’s office because of her Sonar Score. While she had no idea she was sick, her red blood cell and iron counts were dangerously low. This early detection and care helped guide her through her illness, strengthened her relationship with her doctor and prevented an unnecessary hospitalization.
And while we’re currently focusing on IBD, our approach can be applied to any patient living with a high-beta condition, like rheumatoid arthritis or end-stage liver disease. That means many more patients can get the support they need to manage their symptoms and stay out of the hospital.
SonarMD is funded in part by BlueCross BlueShield Venture Partners, L.P., a corporate venture fund licensed by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, an association of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies. The fund invests in promising emerging companies of strategic relevance to Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans. These companies are bringing creative, cutting-edge solutions to the healthcare marketplace.