Working Toward High-Touch, Digital-First Access for All

So much of what we do today is digitized. From ordering food, to banking, to shopping, and yes, to managing our healthcare, digital platforms have become king. But with that digital-first access, there is often a lack of empathy — that understanding that only the human aspect can bring to an experience. And there’s no place that empathy is more important than when talking about healthcare.

But how can a healthcare facility focus on a digital-first strategy — one that has all the advanced technology and ease of use that consumers want  — and deliver a high-touch personalized, empowering experience that promotes individual and community well-being at the same time? 

This was the question Adventist Health asked of itself as it set out to reimagine the patient experience. Through a multi-pronged, cross-continuum program, Adventist Health partnered with Get Well to deliver an enhanced experience that is personalized to each patient — combining high tech with high touch to meet consumer expectations and improve overall population health.

The needs and demands of patients and their families are shifting. More than 50% of healthcare consumers say they would leave their provider for a superior digital experience. This inclination goes beyond the desire to manage their care on a mobile device. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people started using digital technology like never before. In fact, COVID-19 accelerated digital adoption by 20% to 40% across many sectors, as people were forced to use their mobile devices and other digital platforms to complete basic errands and tasks.

Companies like Instacart and DoorDash saw record usage in the early months of the pandemic. This increased adoption and utilization of consumer technology ushered in a wave of efficiency, automation, and scalability for many industries, and the healthcare industry has a real opportunity to bring those same benefits to improve hospital operations.

The first steps toward this consumer experience in healthcare have already begun. With consumers forced to seek care through telehealth or other virtual health options amid social distancing and isolation protocols

Michael O’Neil, Founder and CEO of Get Well, recently sat down with Jason Wells, Chief Strategy Officer at Adventist Health to explore the evolving needs of today’s healthcare consumer and how a partnership with Adventist Health is changing the game.  “I think COVID baptized the entire population to be digital natives. It’s no longer just our kids, it’s all of us,” said O’Neil.

These shifts  — in both consumer expectations and digital adoption — align closely with Adventist Health’s ambitious 2030 vision, which focuses on creating personalized, relationship-based, lifelong care and well-being. Adventist Health’s goal is to deliver personalized care through a digital-first consumer experience while still prioritizing the patient and delivering empathetic care. This means empowering individuals to realize their health goals via consumer-centric solutions that facilitate care aspects such as virtual care navigation and digital care management. 

By prioritizing consumer needs and customer satisfaction, Adventist Health is promoting integrated, comprehensive strategies to reform care delivery. These, in turn, improve health and reduce costs, while the system seeks to lead transformational community movements to bring health and well-being within reach for everyone.

Digital-first access that prioritizes patients

A digital-first approach to healthcare is so effective precisely because it can help organizations reach patients where they are — whether that’s over the phone, on a mobile device, in an app, or over text message — rather than making people proactively seek out their own care, providers, and relevant resources. 

In an inpatient setting, reaching the patient where they are might mean enabling seamless patient education, entertainment, and service requests on an in-room television — or, it might mean serving up the same resources on a patient’s very own mobile device, brought with them from home. The more comfortable a patient can get with an unfamiliar setting, the higher the likelihood of patient compliance and success.

Working with Get Well, Adventist Health’s digital-first experience is made up of three main components:

  • Mobile engagement (reaching the patient where they are using their own device)
  • Text outreach (AI-driven, personalized SMS messaging)
  • Guidance (human intervention in the form of Get Well Navigators)

Through its partnership with Get Well, Adventist Health is delivering a digital experience that is personalized to a specific patient and provides them the info that they need. 

The first component of the program involves an effort to re-engage patients who have not received care in 18-24 months. For many reasons, patients miss routine care. COVID-19 certainly exacerbated the situation, but missing appointments is not a phenomenon that developed following COVID-19 — it was simply made much worse. 

In fact, a 2019 study from the Kansas Journal of Medicine cites forgetfulness, transportation issues, personal health issues, and family and employer obligations as the main reasons patients fail to attend appointments. This study suggests that there are many reasons — both clinical and non-clinical — for falling behind on appointments. 

Recognizing the importance of bringing inactive patients back into the system, Adventist Health teamed up with Get Well on a retention and growth program, leveraging a digital outreach strategy. This program relies on a number of elements to maximize retention: 

  • Engaging patients who haven’t seen their provider in a set amount of time
  • Identifying and activating patients to close care gaps
  • Navigating patients all the way to the appointment and supporting access barriers
  • Mapping provider capacity to ensure clinical areas have capacity
  • Following up on referrals and discharges to help navigate them in network 

Let’s go deeper: Adventist Health’s digital assistant, named “Hope,” relies on a 360-degree member profile to assess personalized factors — including preferred language (currently English or Spanish, with plans to expand), date last seen by a doctor, relevant local doctors, and social and behavioral determinants of health (SBDOH) needs — and deliver personalized, automated digital outreach. These are not auto-generated messages that are sent in bulk; rather, they’re very targeted toward a patient’s particular needs. 

Should a patient’s case need further intervention or escalation, a digital care navigator from the local community is trained to step in and support. This is an especially important aspect of the program — as O’Neil put it: “We have to get the empathy right. We need to augment all this incredible automation with real human touch to reach out when needed.”

The instances where this type of outreach may be needed are many. Adventist Health’s texting, mobile, and navigator efforts supported by Get Well have other practical applications for reaching and re-engaging patients. These range from outreach to inactive patients who have not had an appointment in a certain time frame to providing text-only appointment reminders for all patients with a primary care or specialty appointment scheduled with Adventist Health, whether in-person or virtual. 

Community-based navigators: the heart of holistic health

Adventist Health relies heavily on innovative technology to get the job done, but as with any healthcare effort, it’s the human heart that makes the difference. 

Although the comprehensive patient profiles developed as part of the program offer an understanding of the patient, sometimes, a text-message exchange just can’t get the job done. And, other times, a patient may not want a text or may prefer a call on the phone. While consumer expectations have been changing for many patients, some are not comfortable relying predominantly on SMS or other more technical methods of outreach, preferring traditional approaches like phone calls. 

For these patients, or those who may not have consistent text or internet access, Adventist Health’s virtual care navigation is able to meet them where they are. Get Well Navigators are there to help people feel known, valued, and heard during their care journeys. 

Get Well Navigators are the human element available to step in with resources and support before it escalates to the care team. While embracing technology is important, this empathy piece cannot be understated. The technology alone will not do it; the human touch — in this case, the Get Well Navigators — is crucial.

These community-based navigators help scale a healthcare organization’s internal care teams. They are trained to overcome historical trust and cultural barriers while remaining focused on hospitality. To date, they have handled 2,000+ phone calls with Adventist Health patients. 

Between the automated, AI-driven outreach and the work of the Navigators, Adventist Health’s early results speak for themselves, with:

  • 160K+ patients reached
  • 40k+ new and follow-up visits scheduled
  • $25M+ in reclaimed revenue

Holistic care in other settings

Care management of all types seeks to increase patient engagement and improve health outcomes. However, according to one study in the American Journal of Health Promotion (AJHP), traditional care management conducted by telephone now sees lower patient engagement rates, ranging anywhere from 10% to 20%. This decreased reach can reduce the effectiveness of engaging with patients in this way. 

However, with 96% of Americans possessing a cellphone of some type, digital care management — outreach conducted via app, text, or other digital methods — can be an effective tool for reaching, educating, and retaining patients. 

This means engaging with patients on their own devices both before and after an episode of care with regular, automated check-ins. These check-ins are tied to service line care; at Adventist Health, the organization has started with cardiovascular with plans to expand to ortho, neurology, and mom/baby service lines.

Adventist Health has also focused on creating a seamless inpatient experience for those patients inside the four walls of the hospital. Whether that’s access to easy service requests, meal ordering, entertainment, patient education, or even providing a digital whiteboard for the room, the inpatient experience is another shared digital-first goal for Adventist Health and Get Well.

Each of these approaches has a role to play within Adventist Health’s digital-first philosophy and larger vision. Technology that can scale care team resources and reduce unnecessary inbound and outbound phone calls can help boost staff efficiency. Technology that increases patient comprehension and compliance and collects valuable patient data in the interest of personalizing outreach can ultimately reduce readmissions and complications. It’s a win-win situation for all involved.

Earning executive trust for digital-first access

As with any transformational shift made at a system-wide level, there’s a pressing need to gain executive buy-in. “It’s got to start in the C-suite, because this is a complete fundamental change for the entire health system,” says Chief Strategy Officer Jason Wells. Executive-level support is key to this way of connecting differently with consumers and building relationships in a more personal — and less transactional — way.

To help system leaders understand the goal of the proposed digital-first experience, Get Well and its champions internal to Adventist Health put them right in the midst of it. This meant that starting about 30 days in advance of an on-site leadership strategy summit at Adventist Health, Get Well launched a customized “care plan” designed around the needs of the summit. Tailored text messages were sent to the 60 attendees, covering things like local weather and the summit’s agenda, and asking engaging questions to better understand their needs. 

On a surface level, this digital outreach was meant to shepherd and prepare the attendees for the event, but it did much more than that. When asked at the summit how engaged they felt, attendees were full of praise for the pre-event outreach. Likewise, when asked how much more important that engagement might be for a patient scheduled for a heart procedure, for example, rather than a two-day event, they got the message. It was a classic case of showing, rather than telling — and in this case, Adventist Health was all in. 

The bottom line

As the demands of healthcare consumers change, the healthcare experience must change with them. By taking a digital-first approach, Adventist Health has transformed a complex and fragmented ecosystem into one that seamlessly keeps patients within the system, serves them better, and focuses on improving population health.

By developing a deep understanding of consumer expectations in tandem with Get Well’s technology, Adventist Health aims to expand access to convenient, highly reliable care services and health solutions, optimizing care delivery and ultimately transforming both health and individual and community well-being.

Interested in learning more? Watch the on-demand recording of the webinar, How Adventist Health aced a digital-first healthcare transformation.