How Memorial Hermann drives its brand through digital health

Health systems are increasingly turning to technology to boost their services; however, identifying how to integrate new features into an established brand has proved challenging.

In a webinar sponsored by Q.care, and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, Jon O'Sullivan, founder and CEO of Q.care; David Bradshaw, chief information and marketing officer at Houston-based Memorial Hermann Health System; and Vicki Regan, MD, senior vice president of the women's and children's service line at Memorial Hermann Health System, discussed how to develop and refine a long-term digital health strategy.

In 2015, PediaQ developed Q.care, a digital health platform with two components — nurse triage and house calls, both of which provide new parents with on-demand pediatric care. The triage service connects parents with a nurse, through either phone call or video consultation, who can help direct parents to proper care. The house call capability enables parents to request a pediatric specialist to conduct a diagnosis and treatment consultation at their home.

Around the same time as Q.care's roll-out, Memorial Hermann Health System had begun looking to work with "innovative, disruptive types of technologies," according to Mr. Bradshaw. The health system, in part, was working to differentiate itself from its competitors, as it moved toward a new model of integrated and value-based care.

"What we've learned in that migration from the current fee-for-service model to this more value-oriented, at-risk model, is that consumerism plays a major role," Mr. Bradshaw said. "We've got to start thinking of our brand, in terms of a retail focus."

PediaQ and Memorial Hermann eventually signed an affiliation agreement to co-brand the Q.care app with Children's Memorial Hermann, with medical services and billing provided through PediaQ and physician oversight provided by Memorial Hermann. The Q.care app is part of the health system's women's and children's services line, which encompasses 12 campuses with about 50 pediatric specialty programs.

Memorial Hermann was excited to, as Mr. Bradshaw said, "create a Memorial Hermann storefront in the cyberworld." He found Q.care was more than an innovative piece of technology. It fit strategic objectives the health system had been working toward, including brand expansion and consumer engagement.

While honing in on the health system's brand, Mr. Bradshaw emphasized the need for access, which he called a "key differentiator." Integrating on-demand pediatric house calls into the delivery system went a long toward reaching this objective, as access is a core component of PediaQ's mission, as well.

"We recognized that after-hours episodic care is very expensive and inconvenient," Mr. O'Sullivan explained. "Which creates a market opportunity to access that population, with less expensive and more convenient care."

This capability gave Memorial Hermann a niche in Houston's competitive pediatric care market, according to Dr. Regan. "It made an exclusive arrangement with just us in the market area — none of the other healthcare companies would be having this service," she said. "It would increase our brand recognition in the pediatric community."

The platform was designed for a broad patient population, not just patients at Memorial Hermann — so anyone in the local area can use the service. In fact, since the health system began offering the co-branded Q.care app, 80 percent of the patients who have utilized the service are patients of Memorial Hermann's competitors, according to Dr. Regan.

With Memorial Hermann's growing focus on consumerism in healthcare, the Q.care agreement was also deployed to increase the health system's patient engagement. The target market, in this case, was the millennial generation. "Millennial parents — they want medicine of the future," Dr. Regan said. "They want to have access 24/7, at their hands, in their phone."

The majority (71 percent) of millennials would like their provider to integrate mobile apps into their care, from booking appointments to sharing health records, to even using an app to help manage preventive care, according to a Salesforce survey. Those between 25 and 34 years of age have also been the most common adopters of telemedicine and remote healthcare, according to a Rock Health survey.

"The consumer will ultimately win," Mr. O'Sullivan said. "They will pick the medium of connectivity to our brand."

Since millennial interest in technology runs the gamut, integrating multiple platforms has proved fruitful. Through implementing on-demand in-person care alongside remote triage services, health systems like Memorial Hermann are able to occupy an emerging market space, expanding their brand and improving their consumer engagement in the process.

Listen to the webinar recording here.

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