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Healthcare Disruption + Competition Part 2: How to Win the New Wild West

Howdy pardners. A few weeks ago, I introduced you to the new Wild West: digital health. In this new Wild West, boardroom M&A discussions take the place of pistols at high noon, pioneers are creating rather than traversing the landscape, and a gold-rush mentality is luring companies from fresh startups to large tech giants to the frontier.

There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills!

Like the California gold rush of the 19th century, the 21st-century digital health rush is awash in prospectors looking to make their fortunes. Healthcare is a $3 trillion (and growing) industry, so it’s no wonder the likes of Amazon, Google (Alphabet, technically), Apple, and wagon loads of other companies are looking to stake a claim on the digital health frontier. With every expectation of striking gold.

This gold rush mentality in healthcare is changing the competitive landscape. Traditionally, healthcare organizations haven’t had to think much about competition. But, today they’re facing an onslaught of non-traditional competition in the form of retail pharmacies, tech giants, and new entrants – including telemedicine service providers, health and wellness apps, and other patient-facing health startups.

A covered wagon train forms a protective circle to camp along the Oregon Trail in eastern Oregon

How the West Will Be Won – By Health Systems

Health systems are in pole position (not to mix metaphors) to come out on top in the digital health Wild West. But, that necessitates embracing both the new environment and adapting to it. Success on the 19th-century frontier was governed by equal parts hard work and luck, but in healthcare’s digital Wild West, there are clear paths to success.

Understanding the Digital Frontier

Patient expectations aren’t shaped by their previous experiences with your health system – they’re shaped by all the other brand interactions they have in their lives.

I know I harp on the Amazon effect a lot, but it’s truly relevant to healthcare. Amazon has done an amazing job of streamlining their customer experience. A huge part of their success is tied directly to how easy they’ve made shopping for, well, everything.

Your patients use Amazon. And Lyft. And talk with their friends and colleagues via instant message. These interactions directly influence how they expect to interact with your health system. That means, you need to embrace digital interactions – and yes, the plural is intentional. Across your organization, look for ways to streamline patient experience by making things accessible online. Which brings me to….

Making Care Patient-Centric

Are you sick of hearing about consumerism in healthcare? That’s too bad, because it’s not going away. Instead of taking care of cattle or horses, homesteaders on healthcare’s digital frontier need to focus on their patients. That means more than just looking at star ratings. Health systems need to understand every step of the patient journey – even the portions that don’t involve direct interaction with a provider. Then, they need to find the rough patches and fix them.

For example, say scheduling is a patient pain point. You launch an online scheduling tool to help address that pain. Great, you’ve embraced the digital frontier, but it doesn’t address wait times. Or the difficulties that people who can’t or won’t use an online tool have. Or patients’ need to coordinate child care, work or even a ride to and from the clinic.

Closer to home (for us), let’s talk virtual care. Having online access is great, but is your platform flexible to meet the needs of a wide variety of patients? Does it integrate with your EMR and other systems to support continuity of care? Are you thinking of how digital interactions across specialties and patient needs blend into a unified experience?

Your digital patient interactions need to be part of a seamless experience, and you need to provide both the flexibility and ease of use that patients expect. Online experiences and in-person experiences need to feel connected. Patients need to see the quality, empathy, and yes, convenience with every interaction.

Spread the Word

Finally, we get to marketing. Not to beat a dead horse, but spreading the word about your digital services is critical to your success. Patients increasingly expect digital interactions, and are inclined to choose providers and care organizations that can meet that need – BUT they can’t make an informed decision unless you let them know what you can do for them.

A while ago, our former Digital Marketing Specialist shared a post about how digital healthcare needs digital marketing. The tried and true healthcare tactics (billboards, bus stops, and banners) are useful for awareness, but they won’t drive action. Let your marketing teams run free and find creative ways to share your new patient-centric, digital focus.

Welcome to the Frontier

We’re at an inflection point in healthcare. Things are changing: new competition is entering the marketplace, patients have shifting expectations, and technologies are altering the way care has always been delivered. But the ambiguity that comes with these changes means opportunity for health systems to take the reins and chart a path through this new Wild West that will lead to success.

A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Considerations for Selecting a Virtual Care Partner

As the healthcare industry evolves, health systems are increasingly using online care delivery to help meet the changing needs of healthcare consumers. But choosing a virtual care partner can be challenging. How do you know you’re making the right choice for your health system?

While there’s no silver bullet, our experience partnering with health systems has uncovered 13 areas every health system should look at when selecting a virtual care partner. Check out our virtual care baker’s dozen:

Internal Factors

1.  Who Are Your Stakeholders?

It’s easy to identify key executives who need to be involved in selection of a virtual care solution and partner, but making the right choice involves more than just top levels. Understanding the impact virtual care has on stakeholders throughout the organization can help you choose the solution that best aligns with your health system’s needs. This is particularly important for those who will be expected to interact with the virtual care solution on a day-to-day basis. Involving front-line stakeholders – particularly clinicians – early in the process can help foster buy-in, create a smoother transition when it comes time to launch, and ultimately support program success.

2.  Your Health System’s Goals

Before you can effectively evaluate potential partners, it’s vital to understand why you are launching virtual care and how this initiative intersects with larger organizational objectives.

Measuring Success in Virtual Care

    • Are you looking to expand patient access?

 

    • Do you have capacity concerns?

 

    • Are you seeking ways to manage a challenging competitive environment?

 

    • Are you looking for new revenue channels?

 

    • Is saving on your employee health insurance costs a focus?

 

  • Do you want to support your brand and be viewed as a technology leader?

The answers to these questions will help form your virtual care strategy, which should be at the center of your partner selection process.

3.  Internal Processes

It’s also important to fully understand internal processes and clinical workflows. A best practice is to perform an evaluation of current processes looking at elements like patient experience, clinician workflow, billing and claims, etc. prior to selecting a virtual care partner. This can be a good time to revise processes and workflows that are no longer working well for your health system. Whether you choose to make process improvements or not, a comprehensive grasp of current processes will help you select a virtual care partner and solution that complements – rather than hinders – clinical operations.

4.  Virtual Care Program Requirements

Your virtual care strategy and understanding of processes and workflows will provide a guide to building out your list of requirements. Health systems often start out with a long wish-list and idealized version of how the virtual care program will run. Prior to beginning your search for a virtual care partner, it’s important to evaluate and prioritize program requirements and understand where and if you’re willing to compromise. For example, you may have to balance factors like staffing levels and budgets with choice of modality, or organizational objectives with regulatory constraints. Get your team on board with a list of must-haves, nice-to-haves, and things to avoid at all costs.

Company Information

5.  Leadership & Team

Virtual care is most often a “software-as-a-service” (or SaaS) solution, meaning that you’re purchasing the right to use the software, but the result you get is more service-based. That means the people you’ll be working with matter. During the evaluation process, try to interact with both company leadership and people directly responsible for day-to-day operations. Most importantly, be sure to get to know the person or team that will be supporting your account – they will be critical to your success.

6.  Financial & Organizational Stability

With the proliferation of virtual care and telemedicine companies flooding the market, it’s important to make sure your virtual care partner is experienced and stable. Ask potential partners about:

    • Current and anticipated funding – Make sure your potential partner has a solid financial foundation

 

    • Industry tenure – While length of time providing services shouldn’t be the number one determining factor, make sure you’re not choosing an untested, untried solution

 

    • Board membership – This ties in with company leadership, but a stable, well-functioning board is indicative of a stable, well-functioning company

 

  • Company growth – Look for an organization that demonstrates steady growth, but not one that is growing so quickly they may not be able to effectively serve current clients

7.  Business Model

Understanding a potential partner’s business model is an important part of the selection process. Many companies serving health systems also have a direct-to-consumer offering, which may or may not present a conflict of interest or otherwise impact the success of your partnership. When evaluating partners, ask yourself:

    • Do they market and sell telemedicine or virtual care services directly to patients, health plans, and employer groups?

 

    • How deep do their services go in serving patients directly? Might patients who use the service go directly to them for other care down the line?

 

  • And, most importantly, does their business model present a conflict for your organization?

Solution and Relationship

8.  Technology & Product Roadmap

Finding the right technology for your health system and your patients is a critical part of selecting a virtual care provider. You need to understand the differences between different modalities – phone, video, and store-and-forward. Each has a place and a use, so the technology solution you choose needs to align with your goals and strategy. You also want to look at how different solutions work within your current technology ecosystem – you don’t want to sign a contract only to find that the virtual care software is incompatible with your EMR, billing, and scheduling tools.

When choosing a partner, it’s also important to take a long view. Telemedicine and virtual care today looks different than it did 10 years ago, and as technology and the healthcare industry evolves, your virtual care solution needs to evolve with it.

9.  Service & Support

When purchasing a software solution or a service, it’s vital to understand what type of service and support is included in your purchase. Determine what services are important to you and make sure you have a full understanding of what each solution brings to the table.

Services to look for:

    • Implementation plan and support

 

    • Initial and ongoing training for administrators and clinicians

 

    • Reporting availability and metrics tracked

 

    • Technical support for all users – providers, administrators, and patients

 

    • Account management services and relationship support

 

    • Branding and white-labeling

 

  • Ongoing product roadmap and service scaling

10.  Clinical Quality

Evaluating the clinical quality of potential virtual care solutions is a critical element of partner selection. Clinicians need to be comfortable with the quality of care provided, patients need to feel they are receiving the best possible care, and regulators need to see that the standard of care is upheld across care delivery channels. Potential partners should be willing to:

    • Share quality reporting data – guideline adherence, antibiotic stewardship, etc.

 

    • Provide information on clinical protocol development

 

    • Demonstrate the features and functionality that ensure quality care

 

  • Outline the steps they are taking to support clinical quality across all customers

11.  Clinician & Patient Experience

As you’re evaluating solutions, consider how your patients and your staff will interact with the virtual care software. If you’re outsourcing clinical functions, where will the intersections be and who will need to manage them? If you’re staffing internally, understand how this will look, and how it will impact your clinical operations. More importantly, how will it impact your clinicians? A positive clinician experience can make or break a virtual care service.

Patient experience is equally important. Developing a fundamental understanding of who your patients are and what their lives look like is critical to selecting a virtual care partner and solution that will work for them. Things to look for include:

    • Ease of use

 

    • Accessible language

 

    • Process transparency

 

  • Expectation management

12.  Partnership Approach

Virtual care is a critical, strategic initiative, and to realize the greatest benefit you need more than just a vendor – you need a true partner. As you evaluate technologies, services, and solutions, keep your eyes peeled for clues indicating which companies are truly committed to your success.Virtual Care Partnership

    • Ask for stories about how potential partners have helped their customers overcome specific challenges, or ways they’ve met an unexpected customer need.

 

    • Look at how their technology and service structure is set up – is it geared around bringing value to health systems and their patients?

 

  • What opportunities are available for customers to network, learn, and grow?

13.  Results

This may be obvious, but your potential virtual care partners should be willing and able to provide information on the results their customers are seeing. These need to be transparent, understandable, and provable. Check out case studies, webinars, and independent research (if any are available) to see what type of results health systems are seeing with each potential partner. While formal reference checks can be useful, also ask around to your health system peers. Virtual care providers will most likely only give you access to satisfied customers, which is why reading the buzz in the industry is just as important asreference calls.