By Lori Lawrence & Alex Carter, Business Development Executives, Lumeon

Luminaries and healthcare leaders gathered at the Becker’s Hospital Review 10th annual meeting this week in Chicago to discuss the latest developments in hospital administration and the business of healthcare.

There was much conversation about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare without a lot of clarity about how this technology can be put into practice. One of the event’s clearest insights for the Lumeon team was that many healthcare leaders don’t know what they’re missing when it comes to advanced technologies, including care pathway management technology.

Hospital administrators remain focused on electronic medical records (EMRs) as the tech solution to improve patient care. But many have yet to fully recognize that the EMR’s main function is as a data repository. EMRs can help identify problems, but that is where they stop.

This limited view of technology is part of why the shift from fee-for-service to value-based care has moved slowly over the past two years. The industry continues to struggle with how to identify gaps in care and proactively close them. Healthcare leaders agree that increase in healthcare prices is turning patients into more careful consumers, but they remain unsure how to approach this transition from a locked market to an open consumer market.

Focusing on Patient Loyalty

In this newly sensitive market, patient loyalty is essential for maintaining market share. In one example, Sarah Knodel, senior vice president for revenue cycle at Baylor Scott & White Health, described her organization’s efforts to prioritize patient needs by providing point-of-care estimates, analysis of network status, benefits eligibility, and care provider matching.

Baylor Scott & White is moving toward offering pricing estimates and guarantees now that people are starting to weigh healthcare options more carefully. Millennials, in particular, are shopping around more and expecting greater coordination and quality of care.

“You don’t go on Amazon and buy something and then the price changes after you buy,” she said during a talk on strategies to transform patients into loyal customers. “Healthcare needs be more clear, as that is the consumer’s expectation.”

She advises health systems to look at creating a simple, friendly “digital front door” where patients can access various communication options, a price estimation tool, and a mobile app. The ease with which patients can engage with the health system and proactively navigate their care makes a massive difference in customer loyalty.

Prioritizing Digital Experience

Indeed, the number one factor for consumers in deciding which provider to choose is the digital experience, said Gerilynn Sevenikar, vice president for revenue cycle at Sharp Healthcare.

The digital experience should be streamlined beyond the first “hello.” The entire care experience should be characterized by simple, real-time, clear communications and directions that help patients navigate their care journey without confusion, intimidation, or frustration.

In this way, a healthcare journey should mimic a physical journey via air travel, according to Sevenikar. The airline industry has perfected its digital engagement with customers so that they always know where they need to go, how to get there, and whether to expect any problems. This is seamless even if the traveler is connecting multiple flights, has luggage checked to their destination, or is a novice traveler. And the entire process is done via digital scheduling and communication that anticipates customer needs, even those needs that customers don’t know they have.

A key element of the airline example is that customers’ air travel journey is coordinated and integrated from start to finish, both inside and outside the airport and the airplanes. The customer buys a ticket via the airline’s website and is immediately invited to connect digital devices with that reservation; the customer can calendar and track the flight, check in, pass through security, and board via a single digital app. The customer is tied to the airline, the airport, and the airplane itself by invisible digital strings from the minute he or she clicks “book my flight” online.

Patients, similarly, should feel this sense of belonging and connection to their healthcare providers as soon as they make an appointment. And that their healthcare journey is being seamlessly managed from behind the scenes.

Jill Case-Wirth, senior vice president and chief nurse executive at WellStar Health System, discussed how critical it is for health systems to engage patients outside the hospital with a digital system that integrates two-way communication and wearables. Doing so is the best way not only to satisfy patients but also to optimize clinical performance.

At Lumeon we call this “Care Traffic Control”. Implementation begins with digitizing and automating processes to bring efficiency to previously manual and labor-intensive ones. Once optimized and standardized, data science helps us understand how to improve. Then we can look to benchmarking and sharing to understand how to adapt pathways to achieve specific outcomes.

Healthcare leaders need to be willing participants in this shift to a consumer model or they will be left behind. Employing solutions like care pathway management can help health systems transform into consumer-first, digitally streamlined operations that can optimize care while also caring for the bottom line.