There are numerous limitations and challenges providers face when working to help patients manage chronic cardiometabolic diseases like atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) and coronary artery disease (CAD). When over half of U.S. adults have some type of cardiovascular disease (CVD), the scale of the problem can be daunting. Physicians only meet with patients a few times a year at most, there is no singular medication that can solve the problem, and, too often, patients lack access to the readily-available support and guidance they need to adequately manage their health between visits with their healthcare providers. For me, this is a large part of the promise of AI-based digital health solutions: their unique ability to bridge these gaps and provide patients with the access to coaching, support, and education to make sustained behavior changes and improve long-term outcomes.
With this in mind, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Patrick Wayte from the American Heart Association (AHA)’s Center for Health Technology and Innovation (CHTI) about Lark’s Heart Health program, which we are developing in collaboration with Roche Diagnostics. As Senior Vice President of the CHTI, Patrick is focused on advancing clinically-validated digital health solutions to reach people in novel and effective ways throughout the care continuum. As he explained, digital health’s ability to “improve healthcare at scale in a way that is cheaper, smarter, and faster” has incredible potential to drive care upstream and achieve better outcomes. Together, we discussed some of the key considerations innovators and industry leaders must take to ensure digital chronic disease prevention and management solutions can deliver on that promise and improve access to necessary care.
First, solutions need to be clinically validated. Science should lead innovation, and we must continue to rigorously test solutions to ensure they are delivering improved care quality and outcomes. Lark Heart Health uses conversational AI to provide access to care, education, and resources 24/7 through an easy-to-use app. The program incorporates tools and resources that have been clinically validated, like AHA’s and the American College of Cardiology’s ASCVD Risk Estimator and the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ)-2 behavioral health screener, and makes them more accessible by delivering them to users directly on their smartphones.
Second, even with a program like Heart Health which focuses on one chronic disease state, solutions need to take a whole-person care approach. As Patrick noted, “it isn’t enough to just think about a person as a patient with blood pressure, we need to think about their whole-health perspective: What is their family perspective? What’s their relationship with their community? With their environment? What kind of access do they have to clinical care?” Whether they live in zip codes without access to sufficient care providers or lack resources for health literacy, patients often face significant challenges to getting the care they need. Lark Heart Health includes social determinants of health screeners so that our AI can analyze the full scope of users’ health situations and make recommendations taking those into account.
Third, we need to be sure that we’re reaching people where they are and truly improving access to care. Patrick explained that widespread office closures and staffing shortages contribute to additional access challenges, and pointed to the capability digital health solutions have to reach people in novel and helpful ways by providing automated, insightful, and evidence-based support. We’re particularly proud that our recent peer-reviewed study found that 93.3 percent of Lark’s Diabetes Prevention Program users live in whole- or partial-county health professional shortage areas, exceeding the national average, and we hope to address these access challenges across all of our program areas and deliver proactive, high-touch and cost-effective care to anyone who needs it, no matter where they live.
Fourth, we need to understand and adapt to the mental and emotional barriers preventing patient activation and empowerment. Taking an evidence-based approach, the CHTI has been collaborating with partners to align digital cardiovascular science with the best screening tools for physical and mental health. Lark incorporates behavioral health screeners, like I previously mentioned with the PHQ-2, into our Heart Health program so that we can have a clearer picture of each person’s mental and emotional state and help them overcome barriers to behavior change.
And, lastly, we have to make sure digital solutions are truly engaging for users. Patrick pointed out that conversational digital solutions can help activate data in new ways to augment and continuously reorient a patient’s care plan in a way that aligns and grows appropriately alongside individual health goals to keep them engaged and motivated every step of the way. Lark’s conversational AI is able to connect with people regardless of their education level, technological prowess, or health literacy to make engagement as simple and straightforward as possible. Last summer, we published research finding that adults age 65 and older are highly engaged with Lark – even more so than their younger counterparts.
We are incredibly grateful to AHA CHTI for their continued focus on innovation, and deep partnership to expand the availability of commercially-viable, scientifically-validated solutions like Lark’s Heart Health program. If you’d like to watch our conversation in full, visit here to watch on-demand.
Dr. Jason Paruthi
Medical Director, Lark Health