The Time is Now: Invigorating Path for Growth with Consumer-Driven Digital Transformation

Jon Barlow, vice president, patient activation and consumer innovation at Sg2, a Vizient company, discusses how implementing a digital strategy that engages patients as consumers is the way forward for health systems’ sustainable growth.

Just because healthcare organizations open their doors doesn’t mean that patients will show up. This was especially true during the pandemic as a pause on elective surgeries, lack of a transactional care and revenue led healthcare systems to struggle. Add to that inflation and the increase of nontraditional disruptors — whether tech, private equity or venture capital-backed firms or payer providers — and it’s no wonder enhancing the healthcare consumer experience has become a priority for health systems.

Jon Barlow, vice president, patient activation and consumer innovation at Sg2, a Vizient company, emphasizes the need for health systems to adapt by pivoting their growth strategies around their most valuable assets — patients as their consumers. He discusses some specific ways Vizient’s Consumer Innovation solutions can help systems implement a digital transformation that keeps patient needs top of mind for a sustainable financial future.

How can health systems use a digital strategy to deepen their understanding of patient consumers in the market and build services that respond to their needs?

Barlow: A digital strategy is an important core component of a greater consumer focus, but often health systems think that new technologies and data are going to be the full solution on their own. In addition to digital solutions, health systems also must understand how to deliver a more personalized experience to their consumers. Data can provide a better understanding of who has a greater propensity of needing a certain type of care over others, but then as you get those people in the door, how do you retain them? Technology is the best way to keep them on their care path, but it needs to transform beyond what MyChart does today.

Organizations from the point of patient intake must provide a consumer experience that is on par or better than a One Medical, Optum or CVS MinuteClinic in terms of easy access, capacity and throughput, but also a personalized experience that is unified from the way patients find and schedule appointments to their actual in-office experience.

A lot of healthtech companies offer single-point solutions in silos to focus on a patient’s medications or payer coverage, but a more unified technology is needed for a seamless care journey. Instead of looking for one-off individual solutions such as telemedicine alone, systems need to think about how they use digital technology to streamline a patient’s entire care journey, which can differ depending on the patient.

How can a system use digital technology to acquire new patients who can become high lifetime value healthcare consumers?

Barlow: Through a strategic partnership with ShareMD Connect, Vizient is providing an interesting cross between digital technology and data, and a human personalized connection through consumer education and outreach. In addition to identifying opportunities to drive consumer engagement, they focus on an individual consumer journey based on a specific medical condition.

Instead of a patient going to the Internet to learn more about a condition and winding up on a third-party consumer site, they provide content that is easy to understand with a personalized call-to-action to schedule a conversation with a nurse by specialty. The nurses spend on average 42 minutes on a call with a consumer helping them better understand where they are in their care journey and what their needs are (like if they need a second opinion). Then, if it makes sense, ShareMD Connect will share the names of three providers that are a good match to the consumer’s needs and do a warm transfer to a provider.

Using digital technology together with the human interface is more authentic and transparent and allows for a more personalized patient experience. It empowers patients to be more in charge of their care journey.

What are the biggest challenges that organizations face in their digital transformation journey?

Barlow: Coming out of the pandemic, healthcare systems are struggling financially and operationally with inflation and workforce issues. In response, there’s been a rush to market from a technology standpoint with many different single-point technology solutions in health systems, but not a method to bring them together in a cohesive way for an enterprise.

For example, before the pandemic, chat technology and telemedicine were novel and being tested in the market with limited exposure. But then during the crisis, systems scaled as quickly as possible, but with a very disparate approach. There were some health systems that had numerous different telemedicine solutions across their different hospitals and sites of care without coordination for a high-quality consumer experience.

It’s the same now with other technology solutions. Primary care offices often don’t use the same electronic medical record system as a specialist’s office. So, patients then have different chart logins and it’s just a disconnect. This is exactly why we created the Consumer Innovation suite of tools — to help providers where they are at in their journey in putting their patient’s needs first.

What are the biggest challenges that organizations face in their digital transformation journey?

Barlow: Another one of our solutions is Provider Connections Analytics, a robust all-payer claims database including the industry’s largest complete patient journey longitudinal claims data set. The tool gives a broad view of the entire U.S. landscape, allowing us to look at a specific subscribing provider and help them understand where they are leaking patients. Then we dig in a little deeper to help them better understand why they are losing patients and how they can fix it.

For example, are they having capacity issues, misalignment of incentives or operational challenges? This tool is really the foundation of a successful physician loyalty initiative by helping to achieve network optimization and drive physician engagement and loyalty through referral pattern insights. Systems that don’t use these kinds of insights have a 60% higher leakage rate of their patients.

How can providers use data and insights to forecast scenarios for better planning?

Barlow: In addition to Provider Connections Analytics, systems can use the annual Sg2 Impact of Change Forecast for a much broader look at growth trends and opportunities 10 years ahead. Additionally, as part of the rapid impact strategic growth solution, we have the ability to generate a customized near-term view of the forecast to examine both market and service line opportunity. Coupled with the offerings of another strategic partner, Tiller-Hewitt HealthCare Strategies, health systems can get robust assessments of access, capacity and throughput challenges, areas for practice process improvements and network integrity improvements.

For example, if a health system decreases patient leakage by 5%, what does that mean to their bottom line? Or if they increase patients through referrals and consumer outreach by 2% for their cardiac service line, what does that mean to their bottom line? After the assessment, we create a strategic playbook for the health system to prioritize service lines that offer the best opportunities for near-term growth.

What are the top insights/analytics a health system should measure? For example, predictive analytics and revenue cycles for planning?

Barlow: With our combined operational, clinical and claims data, Vizient has been at the forefront in helping systems get a full market view. And now with our new Consumer Innovation solutions, we can layer in consumer loyalty metrics.

This holistic approach changes some of the standardized KPIs that providers have traditionally used. For example, they may say their market share has grown 3% over the past two years. But what does that truly mean? Instead of market share, we look at the share of wallet — all the dollars available for that patient to allocate to certain care. This provides a clearer picture of patient retention and churn in, as well as an individuals’ loyalty based on their spend allocations among competing health systems.

This is not only a historical look back, but as we start to overlay with loyalty scores, etc., we can measure what systems need to do differently in terms of thinking of the consumer as the focus of their growth strategy and to become more predictive. That is a different growth story and yields better care for more patients in the market. The longer a provider keeps patients as customers, the more often they choose them for their healthcare needs.

Learn more about how to unlock your near-term revenue generation and long-term consumer loyalty through Consumer Innovation solutions.

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