How is population health innovation unfolding in Louisiana?

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The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating effect on the economy and human lives. The virus has had a particularly significant impact on people with chronic conditions. Never has population health been more relevant nor the need for an effective response been greater.

After a long delay, the second annual INVEST Population Health virtual conference will be held November 16-18. The event is a collaboration between MedCity News and the New Orleans Business Alliance (NOLABA) and seeks to draw attention to the latest developments to support population health — from healthcare organizations to startup and growth-stage companies — and highlight regional initiatives. 

The event will revolve around social determinants of health and how health systems and payers are working to address them to improve the management of chronic conditions. Among the topics are a session on the pros and cons of a housing and nutrition strategy to improve population health and innovations in pediatrics. There will also be a spotlight on startups addressing chronic conditions, particularly those that identify problems earlier so that patients can avoid needless hospitalization. Startups will also pitch technologies aimed at supporting patients, clinicians and payers.

NOLABA plays a vital role in helping to stimulate the local economy by supporting the development and advancement of the healthcare and biotech infrastructure. Some of its work involves supporting initiatives in neighborhoods across the city to tie economic growth to the health of residents. 

“We’re clear that health outcomes, like access to quality education and economic opportunities, can vary significantly depending upon which zip code a resident lives in. But it shouldn’t be that way, and we are focused on changing that through our Strategic Neighborhood Development activities,” according to Quentin L. Messer, Jr., president and CEO of the New Orleans Business Alliance.  

He offered an example of NOLABA’s work in this area within the Claiborne Corridor.

“Our initiatives began in the Claiborne Corridor, where life expectancy is 20-25 years shorter than in some nearby neighborhoods, and have expanded to other impact neighborhoods.  We’re being intentional in making sure that critical economic health indicators are improved across New Orleans, not just in the central business district.  In these areas we focus on business development and building resident capacity to affect community change.  We understand that people in every neighborhood will have better health outcomes when they have access to consistent employment and can afford safe housing and healthy food.”

Behavioral health and innovation

One area of particular interest to addressing population health is improving access to mental health professionals. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse and, particularly for older individuals, social isolation, can have a significant impact on how people care for themselves or manage a chronic condition. Ochsner Health System, its innovation arm innovationOchsner (iO), Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana and others are connecting with startups to address some of these pain points.

 “Ochsner Health System and innovationOchsner are passionate about using innovation to build a healthier, stronger community,” said Aimee Quirk, CEO of iO. “We have identified social isolation as an important factor that affects not only quality of life but also health and health outcomes. As a result, we are challenging innovators to come forward with creative ideas to solve this issue and help us develop new interventions to save and change more lives and improve individual and population health.”

Ochsner and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana partner with NOLABA annually to host the New Orleans Health Innovators Challenge, a novel event that challenges startup companies from around the world to present solutions to challenges identified by private and public sector entities across the state of Louisiana. 

Darrell Langlois, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana chief strategy and innovation officer, noted that its partnership with Ochsner and NOLABA has helped the payer identify emerging technology with the potential to improve its services to members.  

“As we enter the third year of the New Orleans Health Innovators Challenge, we’re very excited to learn from those proposing innovative ideas to address social isolation, which is a growing behavioral health need that affects overall health, particularly for our members 65 and older,” Langlois said.

“Growth stage companies need talent, funding capital and customers as they make their case to investors and strategic partners. The Health Innovators Challenges directly addresses the funding capital and customer validation needs,” said Messer. “With Blue Cross and Ochsner Health System, we are proud to invite the world’s leading entrepreneurs focused on behavioral health to present their solutions here in New Orleans and begin to transform lives globally, using New Orleans as a launching pad.”

 Telehealth 

Another critical component of improving access to healthcare and care coordination is telehealth. This has been significantly aided by the CMS agreement in April 2019 to reimburse for telehealth.  

One example of how that is being executed in the region is through Tulane Health System’s Tulane Expert teleconsulting. It provides telehealth services to 12 hospitals across Louisiana and Mississippi, providing patients and caregivers in these predominantly rural areas with 24-hour, on-call access to Tulane’s stroke and neuroscience experts for acute stroke consultation.

 Using the TEC system, physicians at these facilities can communicate via a two-way, live video, audio and image-sharing system with stroke neurologists from Tulane Health System. Those experts can evaluate the patient in real time to diagnose a stroke and work with local physicians to determine the best treatment options.

 According to the American Stroke Association, approximately 795,000 strokes occur in the United States each year. Stroke is the country’s fifth-leading cause of death and its leading cause of adult disability. These numbers have decreased in recent years because of greater patient awareness of stroke symptoms and improved access to stroke care and experts through programs like telemedicine.

Dr. Aimee Aysenne, a neurologist with the Tulane Neuroscience Center and one of the stroke experts who consults with TEC’s partner facilities, explained why the program is a personal passion for her. 

 “I’m from a rural part of Louisiana, and I know my parents would be hours away from the care they’d need if not for something like this. For best outcomes, a stroke has to be identified – and treatment has to begin – within three hours. Time is critical, and this technology helps stroke experts connect with rural hospitals and their patients in just a few moments.”

The New Orleans biotech ecosystem is thriving with three major biotech firms – AxoSim, Cadex Genomics, and Obatala Sciences – all announcing expansions last November. The three growing companies launched local startup operations as part of the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, a biotech incubator, and two of them have since moved to the University of New Orleans campus.  

“New Orleans is an ideal environment for healthcare innovation because you have organizations of all sizes, startups to long-standing anchors of the industry, all in one place,” said Noah Kressler, a New Orleans Business Alliance board member and shareholder at Baker Donelson. “The organizations are working hand-in-hand to create new therapies, technologies, diagnostics, and other services to improve health outcomes for the citizens of New Orleans.”

Due to these developments, coupled with the fact that Louisiana boasts the country’s most competitive tech tax incentive, the Digital Interactive Media & Software Program, it’s no wonder that the tech and digital health industry is on the rise in New Orleans.  “Our community understands the need to diversify our economy and grow additional sectors outside of energy and hospitality, so that we can sustain throughout the ups and downs of general economic and commodity cycles.  The overarching bio sector is one on which NOLABA puts a distinct emphasis, so that our people in New Orleans and around the state of Louisiana have access to career paths within an industry that offers opportunity on mulitple levels in terms of skill sets and education,” says Jeanette Weiland, the Vice President of Bio, Innovation, & Special Projects at NOLABA.

Registration for INVEST Population Health is open now. Check for updates and details on speakers and startup presenters as we get closer to the event. 



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