By Jason Wood, MBA, MS, CIO, EvergreenHealth
The impact of technology has empowered individuals to expect a seamless, consumer-focused experience across every aspect of their lives. Being able to order something to your doorstep, or manage your finances with a few taps on your phone has instilled an expectation in us that all of our interactions should be just as intuitive. Increasingly, consumers, including our community of patients and families, expect that same level of convenience and transparency when it comes to how they manage their health care, as well.
The health care industry hasn’t always enjoyed a reputation for operating at the forefront of technological innovation. But the recent COVID-19 pandemic brought several opportunities for digital health advancements into clear focus, beginning with a quick pivot to virtual care. Seemingly overnight, health care providers across the globe rapidly expanded telehealth capabilities to effectively transition in-person health care appointments to a virtual setting.
For many, the transition not only protected the health and safety of patients and providers alike, but also ensured that patients who utilized the service didn’t delay important preventive care, health care screenings and chronic care management. As a result, as in-person visits resumed, many are seeing positive outcomes from those patients who could stay on track with their care.
Savvy health systems also need to account for the provider experience along the journey to digital transformation.
At EvergreenHealth, where I serve as our health system’s CIO, our goal is to continue expanding access to quality health care by developing technology solutions that offer a seamless and integrated experience for patients and families. While shifting the traditional health care experience to an online setting was a critical move in ensuring continuity of care at the onset of the pandemic, we also recognize the opportunity to develop new, more innovative models that mirror how we all interact with digital tools in our daily lives.
One of the ways that we’ve invested in digital transformation at EvergreenHealth is by forming our Digital Health and Consumer Innovation Committee (DH&CI). Now in its fifth year, the DH&CI Committee provides a forum for advancing new innovative ideas that enhance the patient experience with technology solutions.
The collaborative advisory group of community members – many of whom are leaders in our region’s thriving tech industry – and EvergreenHealth leaders, work together to identify and implement innovative digital solutions that create seamless, personalized clinical care experience for patients and providers through the use of technology.
Among its priorities, the committee aims to foster discussion among members of the region’s high-tech community and EvergreenHealth medical staff to advance the health system’s ongoing vision to create an inclusive community health system that is the most trusted source for health care solutions. The committee meets regularly to provide feedback to the EvergreenHealth Board and senior management on the health system’s strategic and tactical plans for digital health innovations and solutions; offer insights into how consumer-driven and regulated businesses approach innovation and technology to advance staff and customer loyalty and engagement, and to differentiate themselves from competitors; and to advise the health system on potential partnerships and resources that will help accelerate health innovation and adoption of new technology within the organization.
A recent key initiative championed by EvergreenHealth’s DH&CI committee is our upcoming migration to the Epic EMR platform. Certainly, upgrading our EMR is not a transformative digital health initiative at face value, but there are many ways the platform – which is one of the most widely used in the United States – helps health systems everywhere level up their capabilities in our shared digital transformation journey.
At EvergreenHealth, we are laying the foundation to leverage the tried-and-true solutions of Epic’s native technology, which will enhance continuity of care for patients and coordination between EvergreenHealth’s two hospitals, urgent and primary care clinics, home health, emergency departments and specialty practices. But perhaps more importantly, the shift represents the health system’s commitment to continually invest in new digital tools and platforms, which allow us to evaluate innovative technologies that work in concert to improve the patient and consumer experience.
Let’s return to the premise that patient consumers increasingly demand the same friction-less experience with their health care encounters that they enjoy in so many other aspects of daily life – booking a dinner reservation, managing their finances, ordering virtually anything to their doorstep, the list goes on.
While we know that patients are holding the health care industry to high digital standards, we also know that we must meet patients where they are. Some patients demand convenience and a high technology experience, while others will need or desire a human touch at every interaction. Health systems invested in digital transformation will meet these demands with a range of technical and personal solutions.
For example, at EvergreenHealth, patient registration and check-in will not only be possible with a few taps in the new MyChart patient portal from the user’s phone, but patients will also have the option to check-in through interactive Epic Welcome kiosks or tablets in the clinic waiting room, or they can choose to check-in with the help of a friendly receptionist.
By anticipating and responding to patient-consumer expectations for an experience that reflects their desires for ease, choice and convenience, health systems can continue to earn trust while also increasing patient satisfaction. By embracing digital health tools that put patients in the driver’s seat – enabling them, for example, to message their provider securely between appointments and view and pay outstanding bills in the same platform – they become schedulers, registrars and collectors, empowered to take charge of their health and well-being.
Savvy health systems also need to account for the provider experience along the journey to digital transformation. It is incumbent upon leaders at every level to design and implement solutions that maximize positive impacts to our patients and community of health care consumers, while minimizing adverse effects to clinicians and staff. A consumer-only focus will ultimately fail, as we will lose engagement by those who provide care.
As the health care industry continues along its journey to digital transformation, taking smart risks to investing in new and proven technology will not only help the health care industry offer services in line with today’s consumer demands, but it will also allow us to serve our community more fully and efficiently where they are, when they need it, using modern technology that will help promote positive outcomes for all.