Big shifts in digital transformation during the COVID-19 pandemic have forever transformed the role of the healthcare CIO from a behind-the-scenes IT persona to an executive leading the charge for digital engagement.
Once viewed primarily as leaders of technology adoption, implementation and IT business strategy, CIOs now lead consumer-facing initiatives, from expanding options for access and interacting with care teams, to helping patients manage their health and navigate their care journey. According to data gathered by Accenture, 93 percent of healthcare executives say they are ramping up digital transformation with a sense of urgency due to heightened consumer expectations and disruptive innovation. Meanwhile, nearly two out of three healthcare executives agree that mobile engagement can help achieve broader business goals.
For CIOs, laying an optimal foundation for digital engagement is a business imperative, given that half of consumers say a bad digital encounter would ruin their entire provider experience. As a result, the role of the healthcare CIO has become much more community focused and strategically minded — and the CIO’s value to the C-suite has intensified.
For example, at The University of Tennessee Medical Center, our focus on creating a digital handholding experience for patients and visitors has significantly strengthened HCAHPS scores around care experience. It has also driven high rates of engagement and satisfaction, with 61 percent of total sessions on our mobile app attributed to return users.
Digital Innovation the UTMC Way
UT Medical Center is spread across 2.5 million square feet of campus, with a 710-bed hospital and several medical buildings. For patients and visitors, the task of navigating the campus can be overwhelming. And with 40,000 visitors a day, there are just not enough volunteers or staff to provide one-on-one assistance to that many people.
As CIO, I knew that eliminating this pain point was a strategic necessity. UT Medical Center competes with two multi-hospital systems for patients; we’re also a major referral center for providers in East Tennessee, Southeast Kentucky, and Western North Carolina. Given that 1 in 4 consumers say they would switch providers for a high-quality digital experience, elevating the experience has become table stakes for remaining viable in our region.
After examining the feedback we received and speaking with public panels as well as physicians, nurses, and administrative staff to better understand where patients and visitors struggled to find their way — and the impact these difficulties had on the total care encounter, I worked with the C-suite to determine a solution. We ultimately issued an RFP for a wayfinding solution that could guide individuals from their home to the parking lot to the point of care.
In late 2019, UT Medical Center launched UTMC Way, a mobile wayfinding app developed by Gozio Health. Working in tandem with the Marketing Communications department, we promoted the solution on our local news channel, and launched campaigns to encourage adoption. The wayfinding solution proved very popular with patients; within three months, over 3,000 people had downloaded the app, and 12,500 sessions were recorded. Engagement was on a steady incline.
Turning on the IT Innovation Engine
Three months after the launch, however, Covid-19 hit. Suddenly, the need for wayfinding plunged and UT Medical Center found itself with a new challenge: how do we support patients who aren’t on site with their healthcare needs?
COVID-19 forced us to pivot quickly — and turn on our IT innovation engine. We brainstormed with our vendor on ideas for customizing our mobile platform beyond wayfinding and added digital services that consumers craved, such as telehealth scheduling and access. We were able to ramp up a telehealth platform within a few weeks. From there, we focused on adding capabilities that not only eased the patient experience, but also created better patient impressions of our system, including:
- Ability to locate the closest UT Urgent Care center, with built-in navigation and hours of operation
- “Find a Doctor” functionality
- Access to lab results, often within 36 hours
- A place to view clinical documents and records
- A portal to securely message providers and receive a response
- Prescription refill services
- Vehicle parking reminders
We also explored options for making our mobile platform a valuable tool for team members. Based on employee feedback, we worked with our mobile app vendor to create a private portal inside the app that allows team members to access non-public location data such as conference rooms for events and annual meetings.
Ready, Set, Impact
UT Medical Center quickly realized the benefits of a more robust digital platform designed with the needs of our specific population in mind — especially as these needs evolved. To date, patients and their families have downloaded the UTMC Way app over 32,000 times, with 244,000 total sessions completed.
A deeper dive into the data shows that in addition to a high rate of return users, one of three people have used the app four or more times. When it’s used for health system-specific actions, the app has resulted in better committee attendance and a greater sense of community among team members.
Lessons in CIO-Driven Innovation
For CIOs, opportunities to spearhead consumer-facing innovation have exploded in the past few years. Restrictions around in-person care, along with changing consumer expectations, have accelerated the need to transform access to care and services, with 6 out of 10 consumers saying they want to access their medical records on a mobile app, and more than one-third desiring better tools to schedule in-person or virtual care online.
Below are some key considerations for CIOs in leading strategic innovation that improves patient loyalty and satisfaction.
- Innovate with intention. Rather than being reactive to the capabilities that vendors provide, explore offerings and services that would be most meaningful for the population your organization serves. For instance, at UT Medical Center, data from HCAHPS surveys and public focus groups pointed to the need for wayfinding, but continued discussions and a sudden change in environment later indicated that a more robust approach to digital services was required to achieve long-term satisfaction. Here, the ability to customize our digital platform proved essential.
- Operationalize consumer-facing innovation. Digital services, for example, are bigger than the technology that powers them. Getting the most from a digital platform or similar solution — and ensuring patients and visitors will use it — necessitates that the solution must be “owned” by a department or committee. Be sure to include key stakeholders such as the chief marketing officer, chief experience officer, and leaders for clinical care and patient services in determining the right approach.
- Focus on the user experience first. Some organizations begin their innovation journey by looking for opportunities to increase efficiency of internal processes, which can be a great way to reduce the administrative load that can lead to burnout for staff. But this can make it challenging to put a well-rounded strategy into play — one that considers the needs of both employees and consumers. It can also steer attention away from how the experience will feel for users, a factor that is critical to encouraging continued use.
By keeping these components top of mind, healthcare CIOs can continue to deepen their impact on strategic innovation and create a better care experience.
Michael Saad is SVP and CIO, The University of Tennessee Medical Center, and recent CIO of the Year ORBIE award winner for Tennessee.