By: Thom Herrmann, CEO of Intuitive Health
As institutions that provide care to individuals in their most vulnerable moments, health systems are integral to the well-being of our communities. There is no question that American health care is complex—arguably the most complex in the world. Implementing change is difficult; however, if our health care system is to survive and thrive, we must address the way health care is delivered.
Today, the focus of health care institutions has to be on delivering care that is more customer-centric, accessible, efficient, and cost-effective, but many systems are failing. Too many health providers have not caught up with a rapidly changing industry. Instead, they are sticking to practices that worked decades ago but are outdated and inefficient.
The slow pace of change has resulted in problems across the health care industry, with some turning to stop-gap measures to address a plethora of issues in institutions that desperately need complete overhauls. Common characteristics distinguishing the institutions that are setting the gold standard of service delivery include the convenience of care, retail health care, value-based care, and efficiency.
Convenience of Care
Accessibility is one of the most significant reasons individuals forgo medical care. From the outset, the choice of location must be made based on consideration of whom the facility benefits. New facilities must consider what services best meet the needs of patients and their busy schedules.
One example of the shift toward convenience of care is exemplified by the rise in telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Telehealth is a prime example of giving patients an alternative way to receive care. While not foolproof, telehealth gives families more options to discuss non-emergent health needs without making a trip to see a physician in person. While telehealth utilization will continue to increase, it is important to remember its limitations. A telehealth visit can’t tell if a patient has elevated blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. Telehealth triage, basic treatment, and follow-up should be integrated with traditional physical evaluation and treatment.
Another convenient option is the return of home visits by physicians or nurses. Other convenient care examples include freestanding emergency departments, urgent care centers, ambulatory surgery centers, at-home inpatient care, and hybrid models that provide critical and lower acuity treatment under the same roof.
Convenience of care simplifies service delivery for both providers and patients. It removes common barriers that often keep patients from seeking medical attention due to inconvenient and timely processes that have long been a part of health care. Simplifying how, when, and where patients are provided with care reduces difficulties and makes treatment a much more unified experience. These trends place the focus on the patient first, rather than relying on traditional models that put the provider at the center of the health care equation.
The acceleration of a trend toward greater patient access and convenience is likely to continue, and the rapid shift to new models is setting the gold standard in the health care environment by introducing new concepts, such as retail health care and value-based care.
Retail Health Care
The future of health care shares many similarities with the retail industry. Successful retailers recognize that consumers have options. Retailers know their job involves more than just delivering goods and services. They know they must differentiate themselves by delivering outstanding customer experiences. The same holds true for health care.
According to a 2020 McKinsey & Company Report, consumers are more capricious and less brand loyal than ever. In the course of a single generation, Amazon opened up thousands of more brand choices for consumers to purchase. Uber and Lyft created transportation alternatives. The convenience of food delivery apps have changed the way we eat and how restaurants operate. Consumer spending has transformed thanks to an explosion of alternatives and choice. And now, in response to this new reality, health care has to make a seismic shift as well.
Years ago, insurance providers dictated who saw what physician and where one went for treatment. Today consumers make decisions about where they seek care. Consumers have choices in providers, health plans, treatment facilities, and tools to help them make informed health care decisions. Patients have more options than ever before. It’s up to health systems to take the steps needed to win the loyalty of the patients they serve.
Successful retailers recognize that consumer feedback can inform critical internal operational processes, creating a better environment for consumers and staff alike. Health providers who want to grow must invest in ways to listen to customer needs in real-time. One of the most prominent models used in the retail setting is the Net Promotor Score (NPS). Within hours of their purchases, customers are sent a simple survey with a single question to evaluate their time and experience.
Value-based Health Care
Patients want to know that the quality of the treatment they are receiving is worth the money they spend. Unfortunately, the delivery of quality care at affordable rates hasn’t always been common. This is especially true in an emergency department environment, which are known for a lack of transparency in billing, an absence of hospitality and high readmission rates resulting from inefficient care.
Patients want to spend time with their providers. They want to know they are being listened to and that their concerns are being taken seriously. The value of what patients receive can and will determine whether they will return for future treatment, which means they hold much more buying power. New systems recognize this and transform their practices accordingly. Many even begin with this value-add from the ground up.
Value-based health care includes greater transparency during the entire patient journey. Qualities that are indicative of value-based health care include listening to and understanding patient concerns, efficiency in wait times, elimination of duplicate or unnecessary procedures, and patient hospitality. When done correctly, value-based care will reduce secondary admissions to correct complications. Facilities providing value-based care consider patient desires and outcomes and provide education in areas where there are questions or concerns.
Many health systems struggle with outdated operational processes further compounded by limited accessibility and a lack of health education. Such operational deficiencies often overwhelm staff and administrators, hampering the service provider’s ability to be effective. A prime example are overtaxed emergency departments.
Emergency rooms exist to provide care to those with immediate medical emergencies, but resources are often redirected to support patients with needs that are not emergent. Part of this issue stems from the fact that patients often do not know what level of care they need and often default to the highest level of care available. As a result, both the health care system and the patient are saddled with skyrocketing costs for issues that could have been treated at a lower acuity center. This situation feeds into higher ER utilization rates and reduces efficiencies in care for patients requiring critical services.
Newer models provide easy access to health professionals outside of the emergency department or doctor’s offices but may offer only limited scheduling hours. Standalone practices can alleviate pressure on other health systems and lead to improved patient experiences. The principle of retail health care provides patients with options and empowers them to make the right decision when it comes to medical care.
When operational processes are unhindered by outdated traditional models and when patients receive education about the range of services available to them, consumers naturally seek out the best solutions. Ultimately, improved efficiencies mean reduced patient wait times, lower utilization rates, and less burnout for providers who must scramble to help everyone in overtaxed emergency rooms.
Every health system wants to provide quality care to their patients. As providers adopt new models of care, create partnerships with patients and implement innovative and efficient processes that put the customer first, the positive impact on communities will prove undeniable. More Americans will live happier and healthier lives as we create spaces that are successful in delivering quality value-based care.
Today, new ventures are paving the way for progress and forcing traditional health models to evaluate their procedures. In the end, it is the demand from patients for providers to become more patient-centric and acclimate to a new standard of health care that is driving change. As innovators in the healthcare industry continue to flourish, they are setting a standard for success by filling in healthcare gaps. Traditional health care organizations must do what adapt or risk being left behind.
Editor’s Note: Thom Herrmann is CEO of Intuitive Health. Before being appointed CEO, he was President of ProTransport and Covalent Health. Prior, Mr. Herrmann led a very successful business development and acquisition team at Accelecare Wound Centers, growing the business from single digits to over 140 units before the group was acquired in 2015 by Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. Thom Herrmann’s career took root at Memorial Hermann, where he served as Chief Operating Officer and President of the Memorial Hermann Southwest Heat & Vascular Institute. During his tenure, Memorial Hermann became one of the country’s leading health systems for patient outcomes and safety.