Of the many lessons healthcare IT leaders have learned during the past year, one that seems to resonate most is the importance of delivering a quality consumer experience — and the role digital technology can play in the process.
“I think the pandemic forced us to wake up quite a bit toward consumerism in healthcare,” said Ryan Smith, CIO at Intermountain Healthcare, during a recent webinar. “We’ve been talking about that for the better part of the decade, but it feels like it’s really here now.”
The dramatic uptick in virtual visits during the pandemic has accelerated the need for organizations to leverage digital tools to offer the consumer-centric model other industries have offered for years. Unlocking it, however, has proven extremely challenging.
“It’s important that we get this right; that we’re investing in and owning this digital front door experience,” Smith noted. By that, he meant not merely throwing a bunch of tools out there, but offering a “cohesive consumer digital experience, where the organization needs to own its own destiny and blur that line between the virtual and physical worlds.”
During the discussion, he and co-panelists Andy Crowder (Chief Information & Analytics Officer, Atrium Health), Shafiq Rab, MD (Chief Digital Officer & System CIO, Wellforce) and Jose Barreau, MD (CEO, Halo Health) identified the trends that organizations need to be prepared for, discussed their top priorities, and offered predictions on how the landscape will change during the next year or so.
“There’s a huge opportunity to improve clinical excellence, but that’s hard to do as organizations grow, and there are so many moving parts,” said Barreau. “We need to make it easier to work effectively.”
And although he believes digital can help achieve that, “it needs to be in the background and it needs to be seamless.” For many health systems, that’s the sticking point; how to create the right framework to enable digital transformation.
A foundation for digital
According to Smith, that framework starts with a platform that can homogenize data coming in from EHR, CRM, claims, scheduling, revenue cycle, and billing systems. Rather than subjecting users directly to the tools offered by those respective vendors, an abstraction layer is created (using an API gateway, for instance) that makes it “easy to develop products and solutions that can interact with these backend services,” he said. From there, it “moves up into a digital process layer, where you can define business rules and clinical rules. And at the high end of that is the user experience level, with each of those being very modularized components.”
The end result is a foundation that can “support the digital experience needs of our consumers, our providers and our workforce” in an adaptive manner, Smith noted. It also means that if Intermountain develops chatbots that patients interact with through a mobile app or at a kiosk, the IT team doesn’t have to rewrite the business rules for each of those user experience modalities. “We can basically inherit from these lower level layers and make it much more cohesive for our consumer to be able to interact with our products and services,” he said.
Atrium Health is also making headway on the path to digital transformation. In addition to migrating to Epic — which kicks into gear this summer with the first scheduled go-live — the 42-hospital system is rolling out new CRM capabilities to help understand customers on a different level and establish a relationship “outside of just encounters and visits,” said Crowder. Through its six-pillar digital acceleration strategy, Atrium hopes to create “the most frictionless experience that we can for our customers.”
Customer relationship management is also a key area of focus at Wellforce, according to Dr. Rab. “We’re putting our efforts into creating a system that connects the world to us and us to the world so we can be there for people.” His team is also focused on rationalizing applications and moving assets to the cloud — also known as ‘cloudification’ — and leveraging quality analytics to help improve workflow and standardize clinical processes.
These steps are critical, noted Crowder, who urged listeners not to jump ahead in the quest to deliver a better experience. “All of these digital transformation activities are fantastic, but if you don’t create the best place for teammates to live and care and provide the right solutions for them as they’re caring for the communities, you’re going to miss the boat,” he said.
It also means being able to leverage predictive analytics, which became a “cornerstone” for Atrium Health during the pandemic. That ability, Crowder said, enabled the organization to “intervene with significant health inequities and close that gap so that what we saw happen in other areas of the nation didn’t happen in Charlotte.” In fact, predictive analytics are also being leveraged to help safely, efficiently, and equitably administer the Covid-19 vaccine, and will continue to play a key role going forward.
“I think progressive health systems and CIOs will create an architecture to be able to ingest those insights and make those interventions and know the next right thing to do,” he added. “You have to be open in that space, and I think you have to have an architecture and an agile capability to go about it.”
Rab agreed, adding that the pandemic has provided leaders with a “new lens” and brought a renewed focus on improving access and delivery of care. And because care itself — with the exception of surgery — has moved into other settings, including the home, “the technology that supports connectivity, edge computing, and ease of work for the nurses and physicians will also shift,” he said. “You need to have a digital platform that not only supports the activity, but also gives analytical values.”
Of course, throughout all of this, it’s critical not to neglect basic blocking and tackling, said Barreau, an oncologist by training who co-founded Halo Health along with Amit Gupta, MD. “We’re in the weeds trying to figure out how to unify communication and collaboration across the system so that you can get everybody moving in the right direction and then do more advanced things along the way.” Through its unified communication and on-call scheduling platforms, Halo Health focuses on issues that inhibit workflows, thereby enabling providers to focus more on practicing care, he noted.
Meeting people “where they want to be met”
That, according to Crowder, is truly the bottom line. “Healthcare is a very personal business. It’s about human interaction and human care,” he said. “We’ve made it incredibly difficult and we need to remove the friction spots.”
It’s also important to be able to approach issues on an individual basis. “We have to meet people where they want to be met. How you take care of a population in one community can vary greatly from another community based on all types of parameters. You have to know what intervention is required in a particular spot, and there’s not going to be one size fits all.”
Indeed, some consumers prefer video interactions, while others will always opt for in-person, according to Rab. “There are different ways of reaching a consumer. We have all that in our arsenal, and we need to be able to use them all. In the world where we live and where healthcare has to be provided, we need all those tools together.”
As the digital revolution continues to shape the industry, those organizations which are able to offer that top-notch experience will benefit significantly, while those that don’t could find themselves out in the cold. “It’s going to become a competitive differentiator of how well or poorly we do this digital front door,” said Smith. “Not only as it relates to our patients and other members of the community, but even our physicians, providers and workforce members. We have to be able to deliver on that promise.”
To view the archive of this webinar — Future State: Industry Leaders Discuss Today’s Priorities & Tomorrow’s Challenges (Sponsored by Halo Health) — please click here.