D-H Cancels Health Care Tracking Trial

  • Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO James Weinstein answers a question during an interview at his office at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H., on May 18, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/31/2017 12:56:25 AM
Modified: 1/31/2017 11:24:31 AM

Lebanon — Dartmouth-Hitchcock will shut down its ImagineCare health monitoring service at the end of the week and will lay off about three dozen employees, according to hospital managers.

D-H’s trustees decided in December to end ImagineCare after efforts to find outside investors to support the project failed, D-H Chief Executive James Weinstein said in an internal email sent out on Friday.

Some laid-off employees — or “Imaginistas,” as they were labeled on the service’s website — may be kept on while the two-year project is wound down, and others may be rehired for other positions at D-H, spokesman Rick Adams said.

There are about 3,000 ImagineCare users, most of whom are D-H employees, Adams said. Participants with chronic conditions will be directed to seek assistance from their primary care doctors at D-H or elsewhere, he said.

While ImagineCare proved to be too much of a financial burden for D-H to bear, it was effective in improving care, according to Weinstein.

“Early results have been extremely positive,” he said. “We’ve seen significant improvements in controlling hypertension, increases in physical activity, and better management of chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Early data suggest that user satisfaction is high and there have been noticeable improvements in the cost of care for ImagineCare participants.”

The decision to close ImagineCare was announced about four months after Microsoft Corp. announced that it would discontinue its Band mobile fitness tracking device. Most ImagineCare participants use Bands to gather health data.

“Activity trackers (and all their versions) will come and go, but ImagineCare will always be there,” Tom Haushalter, the service’s communications and brand manager, said in a blog post after the Microsoft announcement.

But as of Saturday, ImagineCare will no longer be there, bringing to an end an innovative service that was announced at a Microsoft partners conference in Florida in July 2015. Microsoft described the new service as a “cloud-based system in which nurses and health coaches track and respond to an individual’s health status in real time.”

Microsoft described Weinstein as “the driving force behind ImagineCare.” Weinstein announced in December that he planned to step down from his position as CEO at the end of June.

ImagineCare was the latest casualty of a cost-cutting push at D-H launched after red ink flowed during the fiscal year that ended June 30. D-H posted a $39 million operating loss and laid off 84 employees.

Adams noted that ImagineCare was designed to “drive down overall health care costs and to improve health outcomes for patients with chronic conditions, including catching problems early to avoid unnecessary hospitalization and (emergency department) visits — and our early data suggests that it did.”

Weinstein said that ImagineCare’s “24/7 service has allowed users constant monitoring of activity and health data, chronic condition management, and individualized support from ImagineCare nurses.”

Microsoft’s description of ImagineCare noted its capacity to keep track of participants’ feelings. “Where ImagineCare really takes flight — breaking into uncharted territory in healthcare — is its ability to track mental and emotional health,” a Microsoft blog post said. “Using ... perceptual intelligence capabilities ..., the system can detect a person’s emotional state.”

“By monitoring Twitter feeds and other social media, the system performs a sentiment analysis, looking for troublesome trends,” the post said. “It can also perform speech and tone analysis during interactions with ImagineCare nurses — a boon for early intervention. A mobile app that invites timely mood check-ins completes the picture, vastly increasing the chances of catching and treating depression before it becomes a life-changing issue.”

But health system officials failed to find a way to intervene to offset ImagineCare development costs that a financial analyst noted as a contributing factor to D-H’s deficit.

Weinstein’s announcement said that for ImagineCare “to be financially viable and sustainable over the long-term, in an environment that is paying less as overall costs continue to rise, it was clear we would need to bring the operation to scale with outside investment.” He said that D-H “worked with a number of potential investors over the past several months and have been very close to closure” but didn’t didn’t succeed in finding the needed backing.

The vote by trustees to shutter ImagineCare was unanimous, Weinstein said.

Rick Jurgens can be reached at rjurgens@vnews.com or 603-727-3229.



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