Doctor holding a stethoscope

Importing Outside Lessons into Digital Health

I recently had the opportunity to fly out to Boston for the EXPO Health event. Thankfully, Delta runs a nonstop flight from SLC to BOS, and anytime I can avoid a layover, I take it. Unfortunately, this particular 6-hour flight ended in a 3-hour delay at the airport. A storm rolled through and kept us in the air for an additional 45 minutes; the delay in and of itself wasn’t a concern except for the fact that it bumped every other scheduled landing as well.

When the plane finally touched down, we got the unspeakable pleasure of waiting another 2.5 hours on the tarmac for the airport to clear out their backlog. While delays like these are often inevitable—I don’t begrudge the airline for the storm rolling through Boston—it was still enlightening to see Delta’s response.

Flight attendants rushed out extra drinks and snacks while we waited, because no delay is so bad that an empty stomach won’t make it worse. Eventually, we made it off the plane and to our eventual destination at EXPO Health. The content was engaging enough that I quickly recovered from the delays at the airport.

EXPO Health was an opportunity to focus on great up-and-coming ideas within the world of healthcare. I listened in on panels with experts from industries ranging from traditional tech to the casino industry. It was enlightening to see healthcare from the perspectives of those who have cut their teeth in other industries.

What Can Be Done Better?

Much of the discussion centered around how other industries have done things better. For example, Karen Horgan, the CEO of and cofounder of VAL Health spoke about how applying behavioral economics to telehealth can lead to greater patient engagement and outcomes. She shared the example of working with a sandwich shop franchise to help them reduce the caloric intake of their customers.

The first adjustment the shop made was to include the calorie counts on their menu in an effort to help customers make healthier choices. They found that the additional information impacted average per-customer caloric intake by exactly zero. I’ll admit, it shocked me that this change impacted behavior so insignificantly—until I thought back to my own decision-making process when I stop in to these fast-casual sub shops: get me food, lots of it, and fast!

With that kind of customer in mind, the next move Karen’s team made was brilliant. They simply rearranged the menu to display the lowest-calorie options first! The result was a more than 200 calorie drop per customer.

The day after my flight landed in Boston, Delta pushed 5,000 bonus miles onto my Sky Miles account. This—along with the free food they provided—was a proactive effort to smooth over the poor experience that was beyond their control. Compared to how other airlines have handled me during weather-instigated delays, this was a huge success.

Delta understands that in order to maintain the relationship with the consumer, they need to respond to situations based on behavior. It wasn’t their fault Boston decided to be stormy, but their efforts influence my feels and subsequent behavior toward their brand. Sometimes, like rearranging a menu, the answer to improving a situation is more simple than we think.

Simple Adjustments

Now, long past the event, I’m still left wondering, what are the simple menu adjustments healthcare needs? Healthcare IT lives in a state of perpetual construction as informatics teams frantically scramble to respond to end-user frustrations. But are we aligning those adjustments with actual end-user motivations? Have we done the research necessary to understand the end users’ behavior? In many cases, the answer is no. For example, take the current favorite whipping boy of HIT media: the EHR. Blamed for everything from rising costs to burnout, the EHR stands in desperate need of change.

But how many organizations have taken the necessary steps to understand the motivations behind their clinicians’ frustrations? Certainly, they hear one-off complaints here or there in the hallways of their facilities, but without data, can they say that they understand the motivations of their clinicians as a whole? Without such data, many organizations are left designing in the dark, feeling around the edges of much bigger problems. Regardless, other industries have figured out that user data is the key to enacting lasting behavioral changes among users and consumers.

In response to the need for more data, KLAS initiated the provider-led effort known as the Arch Collaborative as one of many possible ways to acquire that data. Through that initiative, over 200 provider organizations have surveyed their clinicians to learn about their EHR experiences and what the organizations can do to improve. I believe the Arch Collaborative is one big step in the right direction, and hopefully, more efforts can be made across the industry to better understand the clinician experience.




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