Story Health inks new partnership with WVU Heart and Vascular Institute to address heart failure care inequities

West Virginia’s highest-ranked heart care program has partnered with Story Health to decrease health inequities through at-home heart failure care. 

West Virginia University’s Heart and Vascular Institute is teaming up with the specialty digital health startup to transfer more care into the home. The aim is to improve heart function and medication support with the ultimate goal of reducing hospitalizations and health emergencies. Story Health President Nita Sommers told Fierce Healthcare that when it comes to heart failure care, better care with more touch points means better and more years for patients. 

“We tend to work with very senior populations, so what we’re doing can help extend mortality,” Sommers said. “If we can get people onto these therapies, there’s not only cost savings but quality of life and life extension that becomes really material.”

WVU clinicians will work collaboratively with Story Health coaches to personalize treatment pathways through a combination of clinical support, monitoring and patient engagement. 

Around 6.2 million U.S. adults have heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease is primarily treated through medication and lifestyle changes. Medication regimens require careful, time-consuming titration and management of side effects. 

Story Health’s offering includes at-home heart failure titration, heart failure advanced therapy evaluation, refractory hypertension home optimization and heart failure volume management. The digital health startup’s platform utilizes artificial intelligence to support clinicians in preemptively addressing heart health emergencies. 

“If you look at patients who are admitted to the hospital, most are not optimized on their heart failure medications,” George Sokos, D.O., medical director of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute’s advanced heart failure program, told Fierce Healthcare. “We see it all the time. Getting on the right medication and the right dosage of the medication takes a lot of work, a lot of effort, a lot of coordination of care, and having an extra partner to help us do that is extremely important.” 

Guidance from the American Heart Association directs clinicians to titrate, or adjust, medications every two to four weeks. Measurements of medication adherence for heart failure patients have varied substantially. A 2013 JAMA study found adherence to be around 50% with non-adherent patients being more likely to be admitted for hospitalization. 

Remote monitoring titration clinics were found to increase target dosage optimization by nearly 10% with 85% engagement over six months, according to a study published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine. 

Story Health has found that through their combined usage of remote patient monitoring and health coaches, the percentage of patients meeting the requirements for medication optimization increased from 11% to 68% over 90 days.

“There are a lot of remote patient monitoring companies out there, but Story does more than that,” Sokos said. “Their health coaches really add on to what our nurses do and what our pharmacists do. There are different touch points there. When they perceive a problem, they get back to our team so patients are able to have a higher touch point with our team itself.” 

Story Health announced a partnership with Intermountain Healthcare in January of this year. The Rocky Mountain area’s largest health system held a similar goal of reaching rural and undertreated populations as WVU, according to Sommers. 

When it comes to nationwide specialist shortages, cardiovascular care is no exception. Only 54% of U.S. counties have a cardiology practice, according to GoodRx data. This amounts to more than 21.9 million Americans with no cardiologists in their county. Black Americans were more likely to reside in these counties with 16 million living in areas with limited or no access to cardiologists. When it comes to heart failure specialists, Sommers said the problem is even more dire. 

“Heart failure specialists tend to be very concentrated around the few heart failure specialty clinics,” Sommers said. “So if you’re someone who lives proximate and has access it’s great, but if you’re anywhere else, it’s very challenging. West Virginia is really trying to make this easier for people to get this type of care through our digital platform. On the platform, we find disproportionate interest from minorities because, I think, they already have difficulty accessing the current system.”

With the frequency of connection needed for heart failure medication optimization, Sommers said patients who have to currently drive hours to access care are not able to make the periodic appointment timetable. 

Initial work between the two organizations is already underway through integrating Story Health’s program into the WVU Medicine system. The organizations say white papers with program results are anticipated to be published later this year. 

Story Health was launched in 2020 by Verily co-founder Tom Stanis, Verily colleague Nikhil Roy and cardiologist Ashul Govil, M.D. The company scored $22.6 million in series A funding in March 2022.