Most people are familiar with the term shopping cart abandonment; the process in which a consumer adds an item or service to the cart but leaves the site without completing a purchase. What many don’t realize is that this phenomenon has hit healthcare. And while it may have a minimal effect on retail giants like Amazon and Walmart, the impact on hospitals — which often have limited budgets but unlimited competition — is being felt.
“It’s one of the biggest worries I have; when people reach a certain level of frustration over trying to book an appointment or get a service, and they just quit,” said Richard Vaughn, MD, Medical Director of Digital Health at SSM Health. “We can’t afford that.”
It’s an issue that is affecting most, if not all, healthcare organizations. At Ballad Health, analysts calculated that around 4,000 physician searches are conducted every week in a region that serves 1.2 million people. “We feel like there’s a lot of opportunity there,” said Taylor Hamilton, who serves as Chief Consumer Officer.
And it’s not just about revenue. Physicians like Vaughn spend “a tremendous amount of time trying to convince patients to get care,” he said. “We don’t want that to get thrown away because they’re having a bad experience trying to make a connection.”
During a recent webinar, Vaughn and Hamilton spoke with Tom White CEO, Phynd Technologies, a symplr Company, about the challenges health systems face as they embark on their digital transformation journeys — particularly when it comes to providing accurate, up-to-date information, and how they’re managing them.
“We Need Better Data”
One factor immediately stands out, according to White. As organizations continue to expand, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with provider data. And in the case of Ballad Health — which was formed in 2018 by the merger of two competing regional health systems — leaders had to combine two sets of data, neither of which were of great quality, noted Hamilton. “We really didn’t understand the complexity of the data until we partnered with Phynd to start peeling back the layers.”
What they quickly realized is that achieving the goal of “being digital, and not just doing digital” couldn’t be achieved unless changes were made. “We needed better data and better data governance.” A major focus for Ballad is improving physician search capabilities, which can then pave the way for online scheduling and other virtual offerings.
The problem is that, like many organizations, Ballad had long enabled providers to update their own data, she said. As a result, “we had varying buckets. Each had its own way of processing, managing, and updating data, and none of that communicated with the others.”
It’s not an uncommon scenario, according to White. “Providers have not been elevated in the IT topography of healthcare; they’ve been siloed.” While clinical data are stored in the EMR, marketing uses a different repository, as does the payer side. “It makes it very challenging for an enterprise to look at one record of a provider.”
To that end, Phynd works with organizations like Ballad and SSM to create one profile that integrates with the EMR, marketing and health plan platforms. It starts, he noted, by enrolling all providers — including referring and credentialed physicians. “Let’s blow up this notion that you need 20 silos to manage the same doctor. Let’s put it all into one system, and make sure the fields map to all of the other systems.”
They do that by providing users with the tools needed to manage the data long-term — most of which they already have. “We’re giving them the tools that flow directly into this core database of providers versus keeping a fax number, phone number, and email address that goes to a spreadsheet or some other artifact,” White noted. Changes are sent directly to Phynd’s system so that all of the data elements are elevated at the same time. “It’s a bit like crowdsourcing, only it already exists, and we then structure it.”
Getting data normalized
It’s a complicated issue; one that Vaughn believes requires an experienced partner. “You want someone who can walk through this and ask, ‘what are your data sources?’ ‘How are you going to get those data sources normalized?’ How are you going to maintain even different credentialing systems with seven different approaches to updating provider information?’” he noted. “You need to look carefully not only at the technology, but the experience and the quality of the people who are helping you solve what is mainly an internal problem with getting data normalized.”
For SSM, getting there meant creating a data governance team that had the right people in place to build a data dictionary and make decisions on how it will be used. It’s not, however, a one-time event. Data need to be continually managed by a system-level committee that will exist going forward. “You’re not buying software out of a box. You have to sit down and figure out what your goals are and make sure you’re doing what you need to do to get the end result,” he added. “Phynd has been a good partner for us as we walk through that journey.”
It’s a journey that requires a tremendous amount of effort across the organizations, according to the panelists, who offered some best practices for creating a foundation for digital health.
- Build support. “You have to make sure you have good support across the enterprise,” said Vaughn. “This is going to go on longer than people think it should, because they don’t understand how difficult it can be.”
- Create a steering committee. Because multiple departments are involved, Vaughn strongly recommends putting together a steering committee so that all constituents understand the goals and priorities, and have realistic expectations about what’s going to happen and when.
- Work with marketing. At SSM, as with many organizations, marketing has already done the legwork to create consumer-facing websites, and can be a valuable resource. “They need to be fully on board because they understand the challenges, and they understand a lot of the data sources they’ve been forced to work with.”
- Identify your BFFs. At Ballad, a core part of the digital transformation effort includes reaching out to human resources, finance, and legal and compliance — or, as Hamilton called it, her BFF strategy. “They will make or break your initiative. You need to have them on your side, out of the gate,” particularly legal and compliance. “What you don’t want to do is get to a point where you’re about to release or sign something and legal or compliance hasn’t given you the green light, because they can very quickly bring it to a screeching halt.”
- Recruit physicians. Hamilton also recommended creating a team of physicians with representatives from different specialties, and then leveraging them as advocates. “We’re working with those folks one-on-one to get them excited and get them to understand the opportunity we have,” she noted. “And they’re helping us be a voice to other providers, which we have found to be extremely helpful.”
Finally, Vaughn urged all organizations not to drag their feet with something as critical as improving patient-provider matching. “This is foundational. You’ve got to understand your services, your providers, your networks,” he said. “It’s getting your arms around this and becoming truly consumer-oriented, and not just saying you’re consumer-oriented.”
To view the archive of this webinar— Enhancing the Digital Front Door with Accurate Patient-Provider Matching (Sponsored by Phynd Technologies, a symplr Company) — please click here.