The automatic doors made a whooshing sound as Gloria Bienemy stepped into the health clinic for her appointment.
But instead of seeing a nurse, Bienemy met with technology specialist Braden Lemon at a sleek counter topped with glossy iPads and began reviewing health-focused computer apps.
The futuristic scene is called the OBar. A nod to Apple’s “genius bar,” the concept allows patients access to today’s most popular and useful health apps, all approved by physicians at Ochsner Medical Center on Jefferson Highway in Jefferson.
The Fooducate app, for instance, scans the barcode of a food item, reveals its attributes — both good and bad — and suggests healthier alternatives.
After a visitor has selected preferred apps, Lemon emails him or her a link that leads to the downloadable applications.
“You can get an app that tells you what to eat and what not eat? Fascinating,” said Bienemy.
With much animation, she admitted that she is unfamiliar with apps and brandished her cellular flip phone, but added that she was interested in learning about them.
Since the collection of digital mechanisms ranges widely, from apps that help with managing diabetes to an app that assists with sunburn prevention. The process may seem overwhelming at first.
However, a technology specialist like Lemon is available to demonstrate the purpose of each application. And the client can contact Lemon with questions from home.
“As long as they have an issue, I’m here to solve it for them,” he said.
Lemon has met with patients of various ages and backgrounds — not just the young and supposedly tech-savvy.
“I’m surprised by the amount of older people that are familiar with these items,” he said. “I can engage in conversation with them and get a feel for their knowledge, what they’re interested in, and we can just go from there.”
But the O Bar goes beyond digital apps and offers medical devices, including blood glucose monitors, wireless blood pressure cuffs, and bracelets that track the user’s daily activities and sleep patterns.
The data is synced with a smartphone or an online application, allowing each client to analyze food and fitness habits, and if necessary, make improvements.
The information is also transmitted into patients’ medical records and becomes accessible to their physician.
“The goal is to allow people to become more informed about their health,” said Richard Milani, M.D., chief clinical transformation officer at Ochsner Health System.
He also believes that the free service facilitates communication between patients and physicians.
The O Bar opened in June, but the planning began more than a year ago when, Milani said, he discovered the need for the service.
There are approximately 100,000 health applications available today and nearly 600 million users of health applications across the globe. About two-thirds of patients have improved their health by using some sort of digital aid, he said.
“It’s a booming area that grows bigger and bigger every year,” he said. “What that is suggesting is that people want it.”
Ochsner has also set up interactive education centers throughout waiting rooms, since educating the patient is the key to enhancing their health.
And iPads that contain a library of searchable health topics are also available.
“Patients are asking for information that they can get on their own,” said Dr. Milani. “They want to be empowered. They want to be able to make behavior changes — whether it means changing medications or diets. And these things can make a difference.”
Since some digital applications are better than others, the O Bar allows patients an opportunity to test-drive the apps that may be most beneficial to them, in a comfortable setting.
And although these applications are meant to augment one’s health, Dr. Milani emphasized that they are not a replacement for the treatment plan created by the patient’s physician.
“This is not just for people who are ill, but for people who are trying to improve themselves,” said Dr. Milani. “Our overall goal is wellness. Let’s take care of you when you are sick, but let’s keep you well.”