By stitching together seamless digital touchpoints throughout the care continuum, healthcare organizations can improve patient experience, reduce administrative burden for staff, and achieve much-needed cost savings. During Modern Healthcare’s 2022 Leadership Symposium, healthcare leaders exchanged insights about how their organizations are leveraging digital advancements to strategize and transform care delivery. The discussion was moderated by Angie Stewart, content strategist for Modern Healthcare and Digital Health Business & Technology.
Unlocking the transformative power of digitization
PETE GOVORCHIN: It’s definitely a cost-saving (opportunity). There is not only the time saved and efficiency for the patient trying to get to their information, but also for our teams on the other end who have to search for that information. They’re answering the phone calls, they’re opening up the EHR, they’re (entering) passwords— there is a lot of frustration involved in that. If patients can be direct shoppers and actually pull the information themselves, it’s helpful from a quality perspective as well. God forbid something happens, if they show up in the emergency room, they can immediately pull up their patient records on their phone and be able to have that conversation with the doctor.
KEVIN UNGER: I do believe that digitizing things can achieve a lot of cost savings. If you don’t have to staff a call center because they’re scheduling online, there are absolutely cost savings — and it’s more convenient for the patient. But you have to also be willing to continue to invest in other things because people want to access your system in different ways. Not everybody’s going to schedule their appointment online. You’re still going to need people to answer the phone. But if they’re going to wait six weeks for an appointment, they’re going to go somewhere else.
DEBORAH VISCONI: Or not get the care and then end up in our emergency rooms.
JARED ANTCZAK: The new, digitally native generation expects two-day or same-day shipping for every purchase they make online. If we can’t provide convenience and (lower) cost, and we can’t provide access in a way that fits their schedule rather than the provider’s calendar, they’re going to find it somewhere else. Being responsive to those needs and expectations in a very personalized way is going to be critical for healthcare systems to ultimately survive.
TISH TOWNS: During the pandemic, we launched virtual care for our primary care sites using a telehealth solution. On the patient or staff support side, we also have telehealth for our sitters — which is called our telesitters program — providing relief to nursing and clinical support staff amid the shortage. We can now sit with a number of patients versus having to add one-on-one sitters. We are probably most successful with a burn app we use for regional referrals into our burn center.
KU: We have an app called My Health Connection that has acted as our front door throughout the pandemic. We were using this to schedule vaccine appointments. The uptick in virtual health utilization (is certainly something we’ve experienced), as much of our market is very rural. Our biggest push right now is on the behavioral health front. Most of the counties in the Eastern Plains of Colorado, the panhandle of Nebraska and large parts of Wyoming just do not have access to psychiatrists or psychologists, so we provide some support services through digital health there as well.
PG: Cancer Treatment Centers of America has partnered with rural hospitals in creating telemedicine health consults between our specialists and primary care doctors or nurse practitioners at rural hospitals, so that patients don’t actually have to leave that system or town. We’ve trained (rural hospitals’) pharmacists and their nurses to administer infusion, and for any patient that does need care escalation, we’re able to help refer them to somewhere else or bring them to CTCA for that care.
DV: We serve a large, underserved population, so we arm our community outreach staff to go out in mobile vans with iPads. This gives individuals access to primary care doctors right from our facility, so we don’t have to worry about them not having the technology. We have done outreach to the Ramapough-Lenape Indigenous Community, which started during COVID. Another population we serve is the jail population. About a year ago, when we had the early release program and thousands of individuals were released from the prison system into the streets without primary care linkages or medications, the New Jersey Reentry Corporation reached out to us for help. Again, our case managers and social workers went out with iPads, and we helped them get organized. They saw the doctor, who was able to prescribe medications or whatever they needed to keep them stable. If they needed anything more acutely, we would bring them back to the hospital.
PG: We’ve been very careful about making sure that it’s ultimately easier on our care teams. So, we’re in the process of designing a communication platform that basically tracks every phone call that comes in from patients — who they last talked to, what the topic was, etc. The question is, how do you get that information without somebody having to transcribe it or enter it in? We’re working through that. The idea is that if we’re going to put a technology in place, it’s got to make their jobs easier so that people are doing less legwork to figure out exactly where something broke down in the past.
DV: It’s been a journey, especially for the providers. There’s this generational gap of being comfortable with not being in front of a patient and making that direct eye contact. So, we engaged our providers every step of the way, (but) we didn’t put hard pressure on anyone. We did lose some of the older generation providers as part of this journey, but the younger generation is coming in and embracing it. Our consumers, they love it. Our patients are still doing a bulk of their visits virtually, even (at this point in the pandemic).
TT: For any design we’re doing, we want providers at the table immediately. It is very important to us to have champions in that design process. While we have a generational gap among a lot of our providers, we do have some new advanced practitioners — (for instance) a nice group of oncologists that just joined us, they are really excited and happy to sit at the table. I don’t think we can succeed without the provider at the table, starting with the design, because he or she knows what they want for their patients and knows what the patients’ experiences have been. We want to leverage that into an enhanced experience and really try and solidify the relationship.
KU: We’ve been pushing our providers a lot. We have a virtual health center that allows us to do remote monitoring for falls, high-risk fall patients, and virtual ICU care. We have launched a new sepsis protocol that can be called remotely from the virtual center. I thought it wasn’t going to go (over well with) providers that are in-house, but they’ve seen the benefit. Lives have been saved because of the ability to do this, and we’ve been able to gain acceptance around that. The digital front door could really help (alleviate) the burnout going on within healthcare today. If we can augment and assist our providers with technologies that don’t add work—it seems like every new regulation that comes out adds more keystrokes or more work for the providers—but if we can somehow take some things off the plate for them from a technology perspective, that’s the future of healthcare.
JA: One trap that is easy to fall into is...we contract with a new vendor to solve the problem, and we throw [a product] against the wall and we hope that it sticks. In that case, digital can become an expense center, because we are not able to generate outcomes. People don’t engage. One concept we’re introducing at Sanford is the idea of OKRs, which stands for objectives and key results, to really understand: What is our strategic direction as an organization and what are the objectives we’re ultimately trying to achieve? How are we going to measure success at every level of the organization? That way, when (we’re pitched a digital health solution, we ask) what problem are we solving? What objective does this align to? How are we going to measure success so that everything we’re doing ultimately is aligned with the organization’s strategy?
TT: We use the OKR model as well. That’s how we are addressing the questions of what problem are we trying to solve, how does it align with our objectives and what are our key results? Aligning back to our objective and creating the right digital access creates patient loyalty. If it’s easy for the patient and they’re connected to their provider, and it’s easy for the provider, then we’ll be able to acquire and retain those patients.
KU: We have to dig into how (digitization) can affect the quality of life for our providers and our patients and keep that as the driving force. There’s too much work to be done for the manpower that we have. We’re going to have to augment it in different forms and fashions, but it’s going to have to make things better. If we keep adding alarms instead of reducing them, to the point where nobody’s paying attention...did it really help at the end of the day?
JA: Healthcare is complex, so the opportunity is immense for digital to simplify. I think about the process that replaced when you went to the airport, stood in line and waited to talk to customer service. That entire process was simplified with two taps. The opportunity in healthcare to do something like that is absolutely groundbreaking and transformational. But if we don’t marry that up with an operational transformation, and if patients go through the digital experience and then they show up in clinic and we still ask them to go through the same questions, it’s going to be a very frustrating experience.
PG: Remote patient monitoring will be really interesting in the future as well. How do you manage patients and monitor them from a distance when they’re not necessarily on your premises? That’s going to be a huge benefit to patients.
TT: I think we are a few decades away from it — maybe one, two — but I don’t think it’s impossible. Younger people will be there. Baby boomers, I don’t think will all get there, but that’s based on my own experience as a patient. I love being able to schedule my appointment, get my results (online), but I still want to see my doctor.
JA: I do see that happening. As the younger generation starts to consume more healthcare, too, there’s going to be a shift in expectations, preferences and utilization of digital tools. As a healthcare industry, we need to catch up to meet some of those expectations. They want a digital experience that covers every step of their journey across an end-to-end platform. They don’t want different point solutions that serve different needs in bits and pieces. So, (our challenge is to) create that seamlessness, wraparound digital experience in a way that compliments the physical care delivery they receive.
DV: Everything excites me about where we’re going, the ability to affect the healthcare of millions more people through our access potential. And the ability to tie this into quality care, with remote monitoring and tele-ICUs and some of the other things that we all just talked about.
PG: Helping clinicians’ jobs be more efficient is a huge opportunity. You hear way too often that medicine isn’t fun anymore. We need to help clinicians get back to actually practicing medicine as opposed to all the other things that are required right now. And on the patient side, what’s exciting is the potential to) provide more information so that healthcare isn’t a scary thing, so that they’re more comfortable and more educated about the care they receive.
TT: We have tremendous opportunity to, one, improve access, and then two, really make it easier for those who are delivering the care. It’s really hard to treat patients, and it’s not because the patient is complicated, it’s because the system is complicated (with) lots of points and clicks.
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