A Survivor’s View: Engaging Patients through Digital Health - Cover

A Survivor’s View: Engaging Patients through Digital Health

Oscar Wilde once wrote, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” 

My experience with cancer treatment mirrors Pixar’s parody of how insurance works in The Incredibles. And listen—whether or not you see The Incredibles as art, you can’t deny that the movie nailed how prior authorization often feels to patients. 

Thankfully, I feel the tides shifting. I recently had the opportunity to sit on a panel of superheroes from the patient empowerment world to discuss how to engage patients. The panel was part of KLAS’ Patient & Consumer Innovation summit.

The panelists—Hollie Keffer from Baptist Health, Toni Beard from Intermountain Health, Jenn Munson from KLAS, and me—were all given the opportunity to share our own pathways through the healthcare system.

Being the Patient

My patient journey started with a series of unusually persistent migraines that eventually landed me in an ER. Once there, the ER doctor told us that the lemon-sized tumor they uncovered was almost certainly cancer and likely fatal within six months. Thankfully, he was only half right. It was cancer. But luckily, my tumor is as strange as I am, and that strangeness led to much more favorable outcomes for me. 

What did the experience teach me? 

Despite the fact that I’ve spent my career deep in healthcare, I hadn’t realized before my diagnosis the power of the perspective from the patient bed. There’s an incredible difference between healthcare’s favorite platitude, “We’re all patients”,—and actually being a patient.

Patients Need a Seat at the Table

At the heart of our discussion during this panel was a resounding call for change. All panelists agree that patients need a seat at the table when decisions are made that directly impact their lives. 

As one conference attendee told me after the panel, “I once had the experience of sitting in a room of decision-makers that were about to roll out a platform to our 12-million-person patient population, and I asked, ‘Has anyone asked the patients what they think?’ The answer was no.

Centering on patients in patient care became a theme of the conference, pushing attendees to fight for more of the patient voice in the patient engagement market. 

The critical change involves acknowledging that the people navigating our complex healthcare system aren’t just a chart in the EHR; they’re the lives we’re all trying to save, and they deserve a voice in shaping their care journey. 
 And while this push for the patient voice isn’t new, one group in particular seems to have increasingly taken it to heart.

The Consumer Giants Have Arrived

Walmart recently inked a deal with Orlando Health to provide care across Florida. Best Buy has converted their Geek Squad into a health-technology implementation team, using their on-site tech assistance model to help patients manage our new remote care world. Costco is now offering $30 telehealth visits to members.

Clearly, the consumer market is eyeing healthcare’s bottom line, and given their successes with consumer engagement, it’s not unreasonable to predict that these moves are just the beachhead for further expansion into our industry. 

Thus, traditional health systems find themselves at a crossroads, and the urgency for adaptation has never been more apparent. The message is clear: adapt quickly or risk becoming relegated to only providing complex, expensive care.

The consumer-centric models employed by these retail behemoths are setting new benchmarks for accessibility, convenience, and personalized experiences. One of the nurses assisting with my cancer care was shocked when I told her that Amazon is my preferred pharmacy.

She told me, “You know we have our own on-site pharmacy right downstairs.”

Of course I knew; I also knew that using it would mean another 30 minutes of waiting. When I was desperately trying to fit my oncology visits inside of a reasonable lunch period, 30 minutes was untenable. It was better for Amazon to simply drop the drugs off on my doorstep the next morning just in time for me to begin taking them.

Healthcare providers must see these shifts as a call to evolve if they want to remain relevant to consumer-minded, cost-sensitive, convenience-seeking patients.

Providence: A Model of Evolution

As if she’d seen our panel discussion in a premonition, Sara Vaezy’s keynote address perfectly supplied tangible examples of a health system who heard the call to evolve and responded.

Sara Vaezy is the chief strategy and innovation officer at Providence. She broke down the real-world examples of how Providence has taken best practices from other industries and seamlessly applied them to patient care. 

Originally a marketer by trade, I was overjoyed to see how Providence has started to take action on importing the good from consumerism and rejecting the bad. As an example, Providence is doing work around the patient identity and mapping out how and when to engage with patients (or potential patients) in a way that makes them feel heard and validated. 

The Providence framework for transformation breaks down into three parts:

  1. Digital experience enhancement: improve the patient’s digital experience in order to compete in an ever-increasing competitive environment where care is no longer centered on the acute space.
  2. Operational efficiencies: leverage technology to reduce the caregiver burden and burnout. Clinician engagement is foundational to patient engagement.
  3. Business model expansion: once you’ve mastered the first and second steps, identify new, high-value services. Rather than longing for the pre-COVID-19 world of care, accept today and plan for tomorrow.

Reflecting on Sara's presentation, it’s clear that the future of patient engagement lies in our ability to draw inspiration from unexpected sources, adapt swiftly to changing landscapes, and embrace a consumer-minded approach that centers on patients in the healthcare ecosystem.

Charting the Course Ahead

KLAS’ Patient and Consumer Innovation summit, as with most KLAS events, was an elbows-on-the-table affair where experts came together to solve problems. In the coming weeks, expect to see a published summit executive overview from KLAS on the results of the conference with distilled wisdom from all the attendees, including applicable learnings. 

As we navigate the transformation of digital health, let’s draw inspiration from the successes of innovators like Providence and build a healthcare ecosystem that not only meets but exceeds the expectations of those we are privileged to serve. And hopefully, we will shape a future where patient engagement is not just a buzzword but a living reality for those we impact.