Patient engagement efforts must rise to be an organizational priority

Digital technology can be integrated to achieve mission-critical consumer initiatives, says Providence’s Sara Vaezy

Healthcare organizations may be quick to give lip service to the importance of patient engagement, but they are at risk of dichotomizing it as separate from – and even in potential conflict with – their business goals.

That can lead to fragmented, disjointed and ineffective efforts, said Sara Vaezy, chief digital strategy and business development officer at Providence, a healthcare system that spans seven states and operates 52 hospitals in five regions.

Sara Vaezy

Speaking at the inaugural HDM KLASroom event on patient engagement Wednesday, she noted that healthcare organizations increasingly realize that they need to be consumer centric or put the patient first, but “when it does get into the details, that’s where you get into some divergence – they think of either meeting the needs of the consumer first or hitting my business metrics.”

That’s not the experience in industries outside of healthcare, which have long understood the value of personalizing consumers’ experience and using technology to do so.

At Providence, there has been a conscious effort to use digital technology to deliver on an overall system adherence to patient service, which is described as in its description of patient relationships as “Know Me, Care for Me, Ease My Way.”

Providence’s use of digital technology seeks to “know their preferences, their intent and motivation, and personalizes resources,” she said. “We want to be there in the way the patient wants it and doing so in a way that’s consistent, making it as frictionless as possible and not leaving folks up to their own devices to navigate on their own.”

This level of consumer engagement “has tremendous implications for our business model,” Vaezy noted. It affects the kind of technology that’s needed, supply-demand matching and workflows, and more. These are issues that other industries have encountered and can be used as reference sources for providers, and while “healthcare is hard and different, we don’t have to re-create the wheel.”

Providence has formed its own Digital Innovation Group to help develop and supply technology to achieve its engagement strategy. It’s pushed its effort along three main fronts:

  • Uniform digital platforms, which support some standardization around consumers’ digital experiences. It also enables people to go to a small number of “aligned web sites, which are easily navigated, and which allow personalization to be layered on top.”
  • Digital endpoints, which enable direct consumer interaction with services such as virtual care and scheduling, and more.
  • Navigation and engagement, which uses personalization or a chatbot that can answer questions and direct consumers to services.

This framework proved especially crucial during the pandemic, when millions of area consumers came to Providence websites to ask questions about, or seek testing or care for COVID. The chatbot could walk them through options and triage patients, while virtual care enabled out-of-office care for patients for whom such care was appropriate.

Providers need to consider ways to leverage consumer concepts from other industries or from other healthcare organizations, Vaezy said. In addition, it’s important to enable engagement through self-scheduling or otherwise “making it easy for patients to transact with you.” Finally, providers need a digital approach that enables engagement between care episodes, not just during care.

A recording of the entire event can be found here. Register for the next session of the HDM KLASroom series on patient engagement here.

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