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Bio Column- Blazing a Trail: Health Innovation in New Orleans

NOLAHIWith great challenges also come great opportunities. This was the call to action from the Chief Information Officer of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, Dr. Esteban Gershanik, at the kickoff of the New Orleans Health Innovators (NOLAHI) platform in July. NOLAHI is an initiative of the New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA) to rapidly accelerate digital health innovation in New Orleans and the wider region. Many conditions demand healthcare innovation, including conditions like mental health illnesses, cognitive decline, muscular and neuro-degenerative diseases, and rehabilitative care – collectively known as “neuro.” New Orleans practitioners and institutions driving excellence in the “neuro” area have been a well-kept secret, and we hope that efforts like NOLAHI and breakthroughs stemming from this region will help change that.

The New Orleans area has the 5th highest Alzheimer’s-related mortality rate in the nation. The National Mental Health Association’s 2015 report lists Louisiana as one of the states with the highest prevalence of mental illness and lowest rates of access to care. As daunting and sobering as these statistics often are, these are exactly the kinds of situations where the right kind of disruptive innovation can create an enormous impact and serve as a reference point for scaling the solution across the country and even the world.

Increasingly, technology is playing a pivotal role in advancing care, reducing drug abuse and improving patient experience and/or mobility, and the applications continue to grow. Let’s take the case of opioid abuse, as technology has the potential to reduce its lethal effect in many ways. Electronic prescriptions are among the first gateways to reducing prescription overdose and abuse arising from handwritten prescriptions. However, digital health is taking intervention a step further. We are in an era where “digital pills” can track and report drug ingestion patterns, addressing the tricky problem of the abuse of as-needed prescriptions. Digital pills potentially could enable real-time intervention if overuse is detected.

Quartet Health, a New York-based digital health startup, provides a free platform that allows primary care and medical providers to communicate with mental health providers and help connect patients with needed care. It brings to bear big data analytics that help physicians identify comorbidity risks, among other things. The company identified New Orleans as a market that was in dire need of such a technology intervention, and earlier this year it announced a partnership with Humana, Inc. to address the local market.

Former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason is an advocate for technology to treat and ultimately cure ALS, and his initiative Team Gleason is working toward those goals by incorporating a range of technology solutions to improve patient mobility and independence. They seeded a discussion on the explosive ways that Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR), when combined with New Orleans’ growing digital media footprint, could transform healthcare innovation during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week 2017. Indeed such innovation is already being investigated in areas such as smoking cessation, a study that Tulane Professor Patrick Bordnick is leading at Tulane’s School of Social Work.

Louisiana State University’s Dr. Nicolas Bazan’s investigation of game-changing paradigms on aging, Tulane Medical Center’s Institute for Sports Medicine, and the newly-opened VA hospital – serving as a regional referral center and a resource for research and cutting edge treatment in mental and behavioral health – are just a few. I hope this article inspires readers to own New Orleans’ growing reputation for taking on bold challenges and blazing a trail for the rest of the country to follow.

Click here to read the column in Healthcare Journal of New Orleans‘ September-October issue on pages 48-49. NOLAHI is also the subject of a Healthcare Brief on page 30.

amritha appaswami, bio, NOLAHI


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