For Pamela Landis, improving access to care isn’t just a job; it’s a calling. Despite advances in technology, navigating the system remains difficult for far too many patients. “It’s hard to manage,” she said during a recent interview. “It really matters to me that we find ways to make it easier.”
To make that a reality, two things need to happen: the workflow needs to be as efficient as possible for clinicians, and the experience has to be as valuable as possible for consumers. It’s a tall order, but one Landis is more than willing to help fulfill in her role as VP of Digital Engagement at Hackensack Meridian Health.
In fact, she was recruited to the 17-hospital system for that exact reason in the spring of 2019. Fortunately, Landis and her team had already started putting the building blocks into place to create a digital health strategy by the time Covid-19 arrived. In this interview, she talks about how Hackensack was able to “pivot” when the pandemic hit, the critical role a solid governance structure plays in digital transformation, and the valuable lessons she learned from her time in public relations.
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- The VP of digital engagement role is “a blend of IT, marketing, communications, and operations.”
- Hackensack Meridian established a contact center for one basic reason: “It’s too hard to figure out how to get access to care.”
- Covid amplified the need to improve the experience for both consumers and team members, and make it easier for them to access important information.
- During the first few weeks of the pandemic, the focus was on “keeping people informed and safe,” which meant pivoting away from onsite visits and leveraging digital tools to communicate and provide care.
- Having a solid data and analytics platform enabled Hackensack Meridian to predict surges based on upticks in calls and texts.
Q&A with Pamela Landis, Part 1
Gamble: Hi Pam, thanks so much for taking some time to speak with us. Can you start by providing a brief overview of your role and what you’re focused on most?
Landis: Sure. My position is a blend of IT, marketing, communications, and operations. My team has responsibility for all websites, mobile applications, collaborative strategies, and patient engagement strategies. It’s everything from MyChart to patient-generated data; we also have social media, consumer analytics and reporting, and campaign management.
What ties it all together is the contact center. We had begun building out a network-wide contact center into which all the data flow. It was staffed by agents who were mostly working from home, answering patient inquiries via phone, text, and live chat. If you think about all of the internally and externally facing emerging technologies around experience, that’s where my team gets involved.
Gamble: Can you talk a little bit about how the contact center came about?
Landis: What we did, and what we’re doing, is the same think a lot of hospitals and health systems across the country have done. The reality is that it is too hard to figure out how to get access to care. And so we decided to centralize the scheduling and registration for all points of access to care at Hackensack Meridian Health into one place. That’s what my team is working on — making it easier for people to see their doctors, but also to get their tests done, have their mammograms, get their labs, or come in for same-day surgeries. There should be one place. It could be many phone numbers, but there should be one place where all of that is coordinated and handled.
At the same time, those inquiries can be coming from the web. They can be coming from chat. They can be coming from text. They can be coming from a variety of places, but the idea is access to care and how we make that easier. The doorway they come in should not matter.
Gamble: Did this come about in response to Covid, or was it already in the works?
Landis: It was actually in the works. It was one of the reasons HMH recruited me to come here, but it was in the works prior to that. During Covid, we found that it accelerated our purpose to go faster; to get it done faster. And so, rather than taking a year to implement it, we compressed it down to 90 days.
Gamble: So that was really the impetus for you coming to this organization — to get this off the ground?
Landis: Yes. Hackensack Meridian Health had been looking at the landscape and basically said, ‘we need to really improve our consumer and team member experiences in this digital world. That’s why the contact center makes sense. It also makes sense for our web activities, our app activities, and our patient engagement initiatives. How are we using MyChart? Is it foundational or not? We wanted to really take a strategic view of how to make it easier for consumers and patients to access care, and also make it easier for our team members to do their jobs.
Underneath all of that, we know what we want to do, but it all gets powered by the data and analytics. That’s what drives us. We have focus groups or anecdotes that give us feedback, but we really go back to the data and research that say, ‘this is how we should be doing it.’
Gamble: That’s really a good point. So, when Covid first hit, what was the first priority for your team?
Landis: New Jersey got hit fast and hard. I believe March 3 was the date that the first Covid patient showed up. We had already started up a Covid page externally. Right at the end of February, we could feel this coming. We’re in close proximity to Newark International Airport, where a lot of people are coming in, and we knew it was just a matter of time until someone showed up at our door. Sure enough, it happened the first week of March. Then, we were off to the races.
I will tell you, that first month it was all about keeping people informed and safe. And that really meant that we needed to pivot and stop talking about services we want people to come get. We didn’t want them to come in; we wanted them to start using all of our digital tools — chat, text, websites, and call centers — as a way to keep people informed and give them the right information at the right time. Not only we were doing that for the public, we were doing the same thing for our own team members. We were literally able to pivot our site into a Covid center where we were posting the new clinical guidelines or news about PPE to keep our team members informed, as well as all of our clinicians across the state — even those who weren’t employed by us. We had affiliated private practice doctors start turning to us to help weed through all the information.
Gamble: And was the patient community pretty responsive when it came to using digital tools?
Landis: Yes; it was remarkable. Once that first case showed up in March, our website activity accelerated. The day that the executive order came from the governor to stay at home, our phones exploded. And literally, we had one public phone line that people would call for health information. We’d normally get about a 150 calls per day; that day, it got 14,000 calls. And so we had to staff up and get the information and the FAQs out there.
Beyond that, we also knew we still had to take care of people. That’s where virtual care came into play. We needed our doctors to be able to do their appointments virtually, and so we pivoted quickly to that.
The other things was that we saw our web traffic, our chat traffic, and our phone traffic seemed to predict upcoming surges. And so we developed a dashboard that our executives looked at every day to see the current status of everything going on across our whole health network in terms of Covid. And not only that, but they could also see that we saw spikes in web activity, chat activity and call activity about a week before each surge happened. We’d see a spike in activity, and a week later, we would see the inpatients. And so we used the data that way because our communities were telling us something. When they started calling us, they were telling us something.
Gamble: That’s really interesting. I would imagine that having good partnerships in place with other departments really played a key role in all of this.
Landis: It did. My team actually reports both into IT and strategy. We have a dual reporting relationship, which has actually been really beneficial because it helps us stay aligned with where people are going and where they need to go.
But yes, those relationships in IT are important. The relationships in clinical operations are important. They’re important in the strategy department and they’re important in communication. When you look at the chair, like everybody has a piece of work to do and my job and our team’s job is to bring all of those together into a good user experience.
Gamble: You talked earlier about being a blend of IT, marketing and operations. I’m sure a really big part of that strategy is managing that and making sure all of those components are taken care of.
Landis: Yes. Beyond the relationships, it’s formalizing the governance; basically sitting down with everybody and saying we’re going to meet on this weekly or monthly. Whatever the cadence is, we’re going to meet on this as a group and everyone’s going to have input. I might have to pull in quality or legal at different times, but there is a governance in which we look at the projects decide on prioritize them and then keep ourselves accountable to them.
Part 2 Coming Soon…