AstraZeneca, MGH test virtual health platform to keep prescribing up—even when in-person doc visits are down

An elderly woman has a virtual visit with her doctor
Using a mix of telehealth connections, smartphone apps, remote monitoring and early warning algorithms, AstraZeneca's program aims to alert providers to at-risk patients and help them intervene with prescriptions when needed. (Jean-philippe WALLET/Getty Images)

With the past year of the COVID-19 pandemic pushing more people toward virtual doctor visits, AstraZeneca is preparing for it to become the new normal through a new project with Massachusetts General Hospital.

The goal is to establish and validate the Big Pharma’s recently launched digital health platform, designed to help patients with chronic illnesses manage their conditions without stepping foot into the academic medical center’s clinic. 

AstraZeneca’s AMAZE program—which began rolling out through a collaboration with BrightInsight—aims to span multiple conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), kidney failure and diabetes.

The latest project, led by MGH’s Center for Innovation in Digital Healthcare, will first employ the AMAZE platform in clinical studies for managing heart failure and asthma in real-world settings before pursuing its use in additional diseases across the Mass General Brigham health system.

Using a mix of telehealth connections, smartphone apps, remote monitoring and early warning algorithms, the program is designed to alert healthcare providers to at-risk patients and help them intervene with prescriptions and other care when needed.

RELATED: AstraZeneca taps digital stethoscope maker Eko to support its heart failure research

According to a study published this week in JAMA evaluating the use of telehealth for heart checkups during COVID-19, virtual visits were used more often by traditionally underserved patient populations—but they were also associated with less frequent testing and prescribing of medications. 

The study parsed more than 175,000 individual in-person and remote cardiology visits performed across Los Angeles through the Cedars-Sinai Health System, comparing the months leading up to the pandemic to the months during.

The data showed people using video or telephone to reach their doctors during COVID-19 were more likely to have cardiovascular comorbidities, such as high blood pressure. However, clinicians also had lower odds of ordering tests such as electrocardiograms or echocardiograms.

Among medications, clinicians prescribed a therapy more than 68% of the time during pre-COVID, in-person visits—compared to 34% and 24% during the pandemic over video chats and telephone calls, respectively.

A lack of information from skipped exams and tests typically conducted on-site may be driving down prescribing practices, the researchers said.

“For example, reduced lab testing to monitor kidney function and electrolytes or lack of clinic-measured vital signs may have hindered clinical decision-making around the initiation and up-titration of frequently used cardiac medication such as beta blockers, ACE-inhibitors, and angiotensin receptor blockers,” they wrote.

RELATED: AstraZeneca spins up new partnership with Propeller Health to add smart features to its Symbicort inhaler

AstraZeneca previously inked partnerships with digital device makers in cardiovascular and pulmonary care, including smart stethoscope maker Eko and connected inhaler developer Propeller Health. 

Propeller’s system tracks the individual usage of COPD and asthma medication on a daily basis, including the drugmaker’s Symbicort inhaler, while Eko’s artificial-intelligence-powered stethoscopes aim to spot the early signs of heart failure anywhere, without the need for a cardiac specialist.