In healthcare, the terms ‘large organization’ and ‘agility’ typically don’t go together. In fact, most have come to believe that the bigger a health system’s footprint gets, the harder it becomes to introduce change.
If that’s the case, then Baptist Memorial has achieved unicorn status. Despite its size — 22 hospitals spread out over three states — Baptist has consistently demonstrated a willingness to take on new technology, according to Tom Barnett, who serves as Chief Information and Digital Officer. Case in point: it was one of just a few organizations selected to implement Epic’s new integrated video platform last year. “That type of agility for an organization of this size is extremely gratifying and exciting to work with,” he noted.
What makes that possible, according to Barnett, is Baptist’s methodical approach to change management, and its unwavering focus on process and workflow before technology. During a recent interview, he talked about the multifaceted strategy his team uses when planning an initiative, how they’ve adapted lessons learned from other industries to improve efficiencies, and how to differentiate a vendor from a partner. Barnett also discusses his team’s goal when it comes to improving patient experience, and why he believes the most important thing a leader can do is to make himself or herself available.
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- The key to creating a better experience is to look first at “how we’re connecting with patients in the wild,” and start engaging as soon as they search for care.
- Engagement doesn’t have to start with a blank slate. In fact, there are about 12 core pathways that organizations can use to help guide patients through the care journey.
- For Barnett, the chance to lead the digital strategy for a large organization that values innovation and agility was too good to pass up. “It’s extremely gratifying and exciting.”
- The difference between vendors and partners? “A partner is somebody that’s going to be at the table with us. They’re looking at our challenges. They’re looking at what we’re attempting to do on our roadmap, and helping us to think outside of the box.”
Q&A with Tom Barrett, Part 2 [Click here to view Part 1]
Defining the patient experience
Gamble: What are some of your core objectives at this point?
Barrett: Well, I’m very fortunate. The organization is very strong from an EMR standpoint. We’re on the Epic platform, and actually, Baptist Memorial was the first health system to achieve the Epic 10-star rating, which is the highest you can get — we have all of the functionality rolled out.
They achieved that in 2017, and as Epic continues to evolve their products and new features come out and new applications are added, the team has definitely been working through that, even through the pandemic. We re-attested and certified, re-achieving 10-star status this past September. From an Epic perspective, we’re in an extremely good spot right now.
Beyond that, from an objectives perspective, we’re looking to figure out the first elements of that digital responsibility and take a look at how we’re connecting with patients in the wild, so to speak, which is through the search engine of your choice. The minute a patient decides they have a need or a question, what does that journey look like, and how do we define it? We want to work with patient focus groups to help us refine what it is you’re looking for as you begin to engage with the health system, from the first point of contact. And then, as we analyze those patterns or those pathways, how do we make it easier? How do you anticipate, at each step along the journey, what the patient is looking for, and make sure it’s available, whether that’s searching for services, searching for providers, or filtering providers based upon different criteria?
We’ve all been conditioned through some of the great technology that’s out there, through Amazon, Walmart, and others to search for what we need. I think healthcare definitely needs to rise up and meet that same level of expectation of the patient. For us, I think it lends itself well to what is the basket of technologies or what is a core technology we need to help us meet those needs, and then augment it with a technology or two to fill in gaps. But understanding those pathways and those journeys first is critical. That’s one of our major objectives.
“It’s going to come down to convenience”
Gamble: When you think about what the patient journey should look like and what can be done to make it easier, I imagine that can be challenging, because there’s no easy answer.
Tom: There isn’t, but I think rather than approach it as a blank sheet of paper and ask, ‘what are you looking to do?’ we can spur thinking by throwing out some thought starters. I think regardless of market, geography, or even the size of health system to a certain degree, patients are still looking to do the same things. As an industry, we could probably come up with the core 10 or 12 pathways. There may be variations by market, but I think that dozen is going to be standardized. We could probably rattle them off even right now: How do I get an appointment quickly? How do I get my medications refilled? Do I need to come into the ER versus urgent care? Or they may want to bundle visits. For example, I need to see a primary care physician, but I have two kids who need to see specialists. How can I do this efficiently and make one trip to the health system? I think that’s going to be top of mind for a lot of patients, and it’s going to come down to convenience and how they can work best with health providers.
“We can only keep pushing”
Gamble: Right. We’re seeing an increased focus on the consumer and the digital experience across the industry. I guess the important thing now is how to keep that going, or what happens next now that we’ve had this experience with digital engagement.
Barrett: You hit the nail on the head exactly. To me, the pandemic has served as both a catalyst and a propellant to move healthcare toward where we were inevitably headed. It just really advanced the time frame. I think organizations may have thought, ‘we have this digital model and we know we’re going to be reaching out and doing a few video visits today, but let’s build it into a set of goals and get there over time.’ But last year changed the game board for everybody; you can see it in terms of the number of video visits for any health system. It skyrocketed extremely quickly that ability to scale up and meet that need.
And while overall it has probably come down a certain degree as clinics have opened up, from a technology perspective that has become the new normal. You’re in the game at this level, and we can only keep pushing because patients will demand it. They’re looking for us to stay up and even with that level that they’ve come to expect from anybody else with whom they do business.
Taking on new technology
Gamble: Sure. Now in terms of your career, your last role was at Rochester, and before that you were at North Shore University and Henry Ford, so a wide variety. What was it that attracted you to this role at Baptist?
Barrett: A couple of things. It’s a fantastic organization with a fantastic reputation. I also found the scale to be intriguing. From a market perspective, we have 22 hospitals and we’re licensed to deliver 3,500 beds. We cover the northern half of Mississippi, Western Tennessee and Northeast Arkansas.
At the time I joined, they were just getting into and growing their Epic Connect program, and there were a few ambulatory physicians on Connect. We’re now looking to expand that into Hospital Connect as well. From that perspective, the ability to grow that portion of the program was exciting, but the innovative nature, and the ability to take on new technology and become some of the first adapters of what Epic is releasing was also a pull.
For example, we were using a platform for video visits last summer when Epic came out with their new Looking Glass integrated video experience, which would be a lot more seamless for the patient. They were accepting a limited number of organizations to implement each wave, and we so made the commitment at end of last summer to do that. We were part of the first wave in September and we were fully deployed by the beginning of October. That type of agility for an organization of this size is extremely gratifying and exciting to work with.
Gamble: I’m guessing that you had some experience with Epic in your previous organizations.
Barrett: Absolutely. All of the organizations you just referenced are Epic shops. I’ve been working with Epic since the journey first began at Henry Ford Health System back in Detroit. I was appointed the IT lead to our Epic implementation. It was a tremendous learning experience, and it was also fantastically exciting as well.
Gamble: I’m sure. The entire industry, and Epic specifically, has grown and evolved so much through the years. I’m sure it’s been interesting to have a front row seat to that.
Barrett: Absolutely. As we were getting toward the end of the deployments at Henry Ford, the opportunity came up with North Shore in Chicago, which is a fascinating and very high quality organization. It was also very innovative from a technology perspective. North Shore had the first in-patient contract with Epic, so they have a lot of history. I think having that type of exposure to the organization and being part of that team was an incredible experience.
Vendors versus partners
Gamble: I want to talk a bit about vendor partnerships. We’ve certainly seen some changes over the years as to how it’s approached — what are your thoughts on what it takes to have a good partnership with a vendor?
Barrett: From my perspective, a vendor is looking for a sale. They’re looking to sell a product and pitch things that may not be a good fit for us, or may not even be relevant.
A partner, on the other hand, is a key extension of our organization. A partner is somebody that’s going to be at the table with us. They’re looking at our challenges. They’re looking at what we’re attempting to do on our roadmap, and helping us to think outside of the box or come up with a creative way to address a problem — and that may even include an idea from outside of their company. A partner is going to help us to achieve our organizational objectives. They build long-term relationships that become cemented. You definitely want to have your key partners, within your major service areas such as ERP and EHR. And from an infrastructure perspective, you want to have those individuals at the table and make sure, to the greatest degree you can, that you are transparent and that you’re sharing back and forth, because the synergy created there is really what propels the organization forward.
Gamble: Right. And on a more personal level, after spending so much time in northern cities, I’m sure being in a warm climate also had some appeal.
Barrett: I did. I definitely love the sunshine, and I’ve personally been more inclined toward the summer months. What I like about the Memphis area is that although it may get warmer and a little more humid in the middle of the summer, you also get those shoulder seasons in the spring and fall, which is very different from what I experienced in the northeast. That, and the tremendous amount of barbecue we have here.
Gamble: I’ve heard it’s pretty good. Well, I think that wraps it up. I want to thank you so much for your time, we really appreciate it.
Barrett: My pleasure. Thank you very much.