When Jeff Johnson, VP of Innovation & Digital Business at Banner Health, says 2022 is going to be “a busy year,” he’s not kidding. Although driving digital transformation has already been a key area of focus for the 30-hospital system, it’s been elevated even higher to help meet the evolving needs of both patients and providers.
It’s such a big priority, in fact, that it’s being tackled on three fronts: care access, digital therapeutics, and the digital workforce. It’s an enormous lift, and one that will require support from executive leadership, buy-in from users, and partnerships in which both parties are “philosophically aligned upfront.”
Recently, Johnson spoke with Kate Gamble, Managing Editor at healthsystemCIO, about the approach his team is taking to leverage “the real power of digital,” which he believes is “to make it easier for the consumer to engage with our services.” He also discussed the importance of ensuring innovations born out of Covid aren’t “wasted”; the challenges in executing a singular strategy across a large organization; and what healthcare can learn from other industries about creating a “great digital customer experience.”
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- The fact that digital technologies make it easier for consumers to engage with healthcare organizations has provided the “tailwind” that health systems needed to push digital strategies forward.
- As safety became a bigger priority during Covid, Banner focused on providing a “touchless experience” that enabled consumers to bypass waiting rooms, clipboards, and pens.
- When the need arose for large-scale vaccine administrations, Banner leveraged its existing platform to enable forms to be filled out in advance, reducing the registration process significantly.
- It’s critical that leaders are able to apply lessons learned from the pandemic and apply them to long-term strategies, and to not “waste innovation.”
- Although automated reminders are helpful, true digital engagement goes further by creating “targeted patient education around their visit” that can reduce no-shows.
Q&A with Jeff Johnson, Part 1
Gamble: Hi Jeff, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Pretty much everyone is familiar with Banner Health — it’s a large, non-profit health system about 30 hospitals. Is that correct?
Johnson: Yes. We have about 30 hospitals, several hundred ambulatory sites, and about 55,000 employees.
Gamble: In your role as VP of Innovation and Digital Business, I imagine a lot has changed in the four and a half years since you started with Banner. Talk a bit about that, especially how the digital strategy has grown.
Johnson: A few years ago, right before I started, Banner changed the mission statement — and the values that go along with it — to become a customer-focused, customer-obsessed company. Our mission is to make healthcare easier so life can be better; that gives us a big tailwind in terms of pushing forward a digital strategy, because the real power of digital is to make it easier for the consumer to engage with our services.
We’ve seen a continued amount of support from the organization to recognize what we need to do to digitally connect with our customer, and we’ve seen that continued expectation from our customers that we are much easier to access as an industry through digital solutions.
Gamble: Right. And of course, there’s been so much change in the past two years, particularly in terms of digital adoption. What has that been like from your perspective?
Johnson: I think we were already on the track toward creating easy digital experiences and digital access for our customers, even prior to COVID. It was accelerated by Covid, but it didn’t change too much.
Safety as “a new value”
The one area that did change in terms of our digital strategy with our consumers was around safety. Safety almost became a new value of our customers. By that, I mean they became very aware of infectious diseases. Things like being in a waiting room suddenly became not just an inconvenience, but also a safety concern. Touching a clipboard and a pen in a clinic became not just a hassle — why am I not doing that on my phone? Why am I touching a shared device or even a kiosk in a hospital emergency room area? All of that became suspect in terms of our digital strategies, and we started to think about not only how to make care more convenient, but how do we move to a touchless experience, and respond to the customers’ need for a safe environment in healthcare.
Gamble: That’s a really interesting point. People seem to be a lot more conscious of safety and sanitation than they were before. What are some of the things your team did to address that?
Johnson: Based on research from our marketing team, we knew that customers were reluctant in some cases to come see their doctor during Covid because of the safety issues. And so, we put together a touchless check-in process in which customers can fill out forms prior to their visit. That way, rather than come into a clinic and sit in the waiting room, they can stay in their car and text us when they arrive. When we’re ready for them, we send a text telling them to come in, and we greet them at the door and take them right back to the exam room. By doing this, we bypass the waiting room, clipboards, and pens.
Gamble: I’m sure that was a big satisfier for patients, probably right off the bat.
Johnson: It was great because we were able to bring in patients who might otherwise been avoiding necessary care. We monitored it and found that satisfaction with the experience ranked in the 90th percentile. So yes, it was an instant satisfier. But, more importantly, it helped get people in for care who may have otherwise been reluctant to come back so soon.
Gamble: That’s really important. You mentioned before that Banner had already started on the path to digital engagement. How was that affected when Covid hit, and certain initiatives needed to take precedence?
Johnson: Before Covid, I would say that we had some things in place. We were in the beginning phases of a much bigger investment, but we hadn’t really pushed out a lot of it. We were right at the cusp of a large major digital initiative around the consumer experience when Covid hit — some key pieces were in place. But we found that we had to shift a lot of that focus to respond specifically to the pandemic.
Partnering with Luma
For example, we suddenly found ourselves in the world of administering vaccinations on a large scale — at the state fairgrounds and in hospital parking lots — to tens of thousands of our customers. We immediate had to figure out how to do that digitally. And so worked with Luma, a company with whom we already had a partnership, to switch gears and focus not just on the traditional visit, but also on managing vaccination centers. Through that partnership, we were able to quickly utilize our existing platform to access the forms and documentation needed to get a Covid vaccine — including CDC acknowledgements, financial information, and clinical history — and turn that into a pre-visit experience where forms could be filled out beforehand.
5 minutes to 15 seconds
When they arrived, they just had to roll down their window and we could scan a QR code, which linked right to the EMR, and move them through the vaccination process really quickly. We cut down the registration process from about 5 minutes to 15 seconds at some of our facilities. The hope is that we don’t waste that innovation on a (hopefully) one-time pandemic, but rather, take all of those learnings and all of that development and apply to accelerate the rate of our mainstream digital operations.
Gamble: That’s incredible. We’ve heard a lot of people say that there needs to be a conscious effort to ensure these lessons are applied to long-term strategies.
Johnson: Telehealth is a great example. We made a conscious decision not to just outsource services to a third-party telehealth network, but to enable all physicians employed by Banner to be able to do that. That’s the long-term goal; for it to be a core competency of our providers to do both a telehealth consult and an in-person consult. That’s one of those examples where we’re taking the longer view of a sustainable model rather than reacting quickly and outsourcing it to someone else.
Enabling true digital engagement
Gamble: And things like automating the intake and patient consent processes can also help save time and improve workflows.
Johnson: Absolutely. I think that work we did with them around Covid vaccinations accelerated some of our plans. For example, we’re bringing Luma’s platform technology as a starting point into our imaging service line. We have 25-plus standalone imaging centers that were largely paper-based, phone-based systems until we brought them onto the Luma platform. We’re now able to engage with those patients digitally before they come in, mainly through text messages. We’re prepping them for their visits by providing not just reminders, but targeted patient education around their visit and how to best prepare for it.
They can get on a waitlist if they’re eager to find an earlier or more convenient appointment. They can reschedule appointments through the Luma platform, which has not only been a big satisfier, but has also taken a lot of pressure off of phone operators, which is a hard function to staff in today’s labor market.
We’ve also have seen that our no-show rate has been reduced by more than 20 percent. Those are the wins we’re after, where we can improve the customer’s experience and also realize tremendous operational benefits. That’s what we’re targeting with Luma’s platform.
Clinicians were “really excited”
Gamble: When you can see improvement on the provider side, I’m sure that’s a tremendous win.
Johnson: Yes. When we launched the Luma solution at one of our big vaccination pods, we had first done a pilot, and the clinicians were really excited. Everything went much faster when we weren’t passing a tablet around. And when we announced that we were going from pilot to full scale adoption of the platform at that vaccination center, they literally stood up and cheered in the command center. I’ve been doing digital stuff for a while — if you can get your operators and your clinicians to stand and cheer when you announce something, that’s rare. It was pretty cool.
“Visionary senior leadership team”
Gamble: I’m sure. You talked earlier about having support from executives — I would imagine that has made a significant difference.
Johnson: It has. At Banner, we’re really fortunate to have a very visionary senior leadership team, as well as a very supportive board. Collectively, they’ve recognized that in order to fulfill our mission, we needed to make this type of investment, wholesale, across the enterprise. It’s been great to have that support pushing us forward to be somewhat of a risk-taker in a lot of cases, and to establish innovation as one of our core values. That’s been really remarkable.
Singular execution across the organization
Where it gets challenging in a large organization is when you get into the execution mode, and you’re trying to get all your different service lines and all your different hospitals, medical groups, and ancillary services to all come together and say, how do we execute singularly around the customer so that you don’t have a different digital experience if you go to urgent care as opposed to a cancer care facility, or if you go to a clinic as opposed to a hospital.
That’s where we focus a lot of our time: on bringing all stakeholders together to make sure they’re fully committed to a Banner experience rather than a service-line experience or an operational experience. It needs to come together into a Banner experience.
We’re fortunate to have an excellent change management team; they’re a key partner in trying to do this scale across the enterprise.
Part 2 Coming Soon…