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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- One of the positives to emerge from Covid: “It did show us that with focus (and alignment), we can do great things, amazing work.”
- The keys to making digital health a permanent component of the strategy? Smoothing out the workflow for clinicians, and ensuring it’s easy for patients to use.
- Patient-generated data can be extremely valuable — but physicians need to know what happens in between visits in order to “really understand” patients.
- “Healthcare is hard to access. It’s hard to manage,” Landis said. “It really matters to me that we find ways to make it easier.”
- For healthcare leaders, one of the most important skills is being able to “craft messages that consumers can understand them.”
Q&A with Pam Landis, Part 2 [To view Part 1, click here]
Landis: I have small governance groups that work on the consumer patient experience side and the team member experience side around all things digital. They’re co-chaired by the leader of HR for team member experience and a leader from our medical group for consumer and patient experience. They co-chair with me because we both have ownership in making sure this works well.
“With focus, we can do great things”
Gamble: I’m sure it was critical as needs and priorities changed during Covid having government in place and being able to manage priorities in a way that makes everyone happy — or at least as happy as possible.
Landis: And that they understand the priorities. I hate to say there were silver linings to Covid because of the unimaginable loss that this country has experienced and the pain that was experienced by those on the frontline. But it did show us that with focus, we can do great things. That’s the lesson we all need to keep close to our hearts — that, with focus and alignment, we can do amazing things. All across the country, we saw people doing amazing things, because everyone was aligned on one single purpose: defeating Covid and caring for the patient. Our challenge now is maintaining that; not losing that focus on doing the right thing.
Making digital a permanent strategy
Gamble: We speak to a lot of leaders about digital engagement; some hadn’t done much at all prior to Covid. And so I think for a lot of them, the big challenge will be to keep this going. What do you think are the keys to making sure digital health remains part of the strategy?
Landis: There are two components in keeping virtual health as a strategy. First, we have to smooth out the workflow for the clinician. We have to make it easy to bake it into his or her day. The day he or she truly gets it and doesn’t say, ‘I have a virtual visit,’ but rather, ‘I have a patient visit,’ that’s when I’ll know we’ve done the right thing with workflow.
For the patient, we need to make that it’s easy for them. Right it’s good — it’s not great, but there are still some things we can do to improve the user experience and still make it feel valuable to them.
Based on comments we’ve seen from patient satisfaction surveys, we learned that people loved telehealth during Covid, because they knew it was the only way to get care. Now, a lot of them are saying they want to see their doctor in-person. And so we’re trying to help them find the right balance of in-person and virtual. That’s something we’re going to have to work out with patients and clinicians. What’s the right blend? If you’re a patient with type 1 diabetes, what’s the right blend? That’s where people are going to continue to enjoy it and adopt it.
The other thing is, we need to have a real strategy around what I call patient-generated data. For example, we might ask a diabetic patient to send in their daily glucose values. If they do that, we have to act on them. How do providers start taking in all of that health data and managing in a way that makes the patient feel like we understand where they are in between visits?
When it comes to patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, and asthma, providers need to know what happens in between visits so that they can really understand what’s going on. I think having access to that kind of data, in a meaningful way, can really strengthen the relationship between a patient and a provider.
The evolution of patient experience
Gamble: Definitely. Looking at your career background, it’s clear that patient experience has been a passion of yours for a while. It must be interesting to reflect on how much has changed from the early days of patient portals.
Landis: Exactly. It’s funny; I started my career in healthcare at Johns Hopkins doing clinical PR. One day my boss said, ‘We really have to figure out this worldwide web.’ I was in the cube next to him and I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ The reason I said I would do it is because the server for the department sat in my queue. I was like, ‘how hard can this be?’ That started the journey where I learned how to code, I learned networking, and I ended up getting a masters in informatics.
But beyond that was seeing the power of technology — how people could integrate it into their lives and how it can make things easier. My passion has been that healthcare is hard to access. It’s hard to manage. My family will come to me and say, ‘Can you help me with this?’ It’s really difficult to maneuver through our systems, and so it really matters to me that we find ways to make it easier. That’s what I work on — all day, every day.
We’ve seen the evolution. The first thing we decided to do was build a directory to help find a doctor. It’s getting an appointment, deciding where to park, etc. You start going through the journey, and that actually tells you what you need to do.
Gamble: There were so many starts and stops with telemedicine. Before Covid, there was always this question about whether it would get off the ground. I can imagine it’s gratifying to see people really realize the power of digital tools in healthcare.
Landis: It was about this idea. Most senior executives they got it. They understood it. They backed it. They were supportive. Prior to Covid, it was, ‘that’s not how we do it. We need to do it this way.’ Whereas now it’s, ‘we know what we have to do now. Let’s all come together.’ Instead of doing a pilot or being an early adopter, it was, ‘we’re moving forward.’ Those ideas where it starts as a pilot and you hope people like it and it grows — that’s not it. The thinking is, ‘We’re going to do this. There’s no going back.’ And everybody sort of gets it.
Gamble: It’s been amazing to see. The telehealth numbers spiked so quickly, but what was really impactful was hearing from physicians who thought their patients would never go for it, but they did.
Landis: Right. The demographics are changing, and the boomers who are moving into older age groups are used to technology. It’s embedded in their lives.
The other thing is that millennials and younger boomers value convenience over everything. Everything. They will pay a buck more. They look at ratings, but what’s most important is convenience, and we have to be responsive to that.
Gamble: Very true. And for you, I can imagine it has been valuable having that PR experience under your belt.
Landis: It is, because it’s really about how to craft messages that people can understand; it’s taking complex scientific information and systems and making it understandable to consumers. A lot of the same principles get applied to that. If you need me to run cable or code a page, I can do that. You bring all of those pieces together. Digital is just another language interface. That’s what it is.