5 hospitals tell how they've improved digital communication with patients

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Patients today expect digital tools that allow them to conveniently and easily communicate with their medical providers. To meet these expectations, organizations are consistently rolling out engagement initiatives.

Becker's Hospital Review asked healthcare leaders to talk about initiatives they've debuted in the last year. Their responses are below, presented alphabetically.

Editor's note: The following responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.  

Darren Dworkin
CIO of Cedars-Sinai (Los Angeles)

From our mobile app, video visits and online appointment scheduling, we are focused on making it easier for our patients to interact with us. Texting plays a major role in this strategy. Our launch of the texting solution, Well Health, has enabled our frontline ambulatory staff to reach our patients via texts for reminders, directions and sending electronic forms. It also has delivered to our patients a frictionless way to ask our office staff questions. We have seen patient satisfaction increase, appointment no-show rates decrease, and we have chipped away at paper forms in the doctor's office. Our texting solution has a 70 percent adoption rate and has put us on pace to replace more than 4.2 million phone and paper interactions per year with digital ones.

Suzanna Fox, MD
Senior medical director, women's service line and deputy chief physician executive at Atrium Health (Charlotte, N.C.)

Atrium Health introduced the Babyscripts app, a virtual care platform for managing obstetrics, to patients with great success. By offering mothers-to-be with additional resources, it furthers our commitment to provide access to care in a way that is most convenient for our patients.

All of our OB-GYN practices speak to their patients about this app, which provides access to education on pregnancy, content about baby development, maternity classes, as well as navigation related to Atrium Health practices and hospitals. Our patients can stay connected to their care team and be informed about their pregnancy, providing additional flexibility and transparency between moms and clinical teams.

Within six months of the launch, we have seen more than 6,900 patients enroll in the app. This far exceeds the average for Babyscripts. We continue to provide additional Atrium Health-specific content within the app for a more personalized experience. In 2020 we will launch the 2.0 version of the app, which will provide an improved user experience and aesthetics with additional nutrition and post-partum resources, including post-birth daily content for one year.

Patients say that week to week it's the right amount of information being provided and the bank of content is easily accessible. They also rave about how the app makes them feel knowledgeable about their pregnancy.

As an innovative healthcare system, it is important to embrace digital solutions to provide our patients with the best care when and where they need it. 

Terry Hudson-Jinks, RN, MSN
Chief nursing officer of Tufts Medical Center (Boston)

We are always looking for ways that technology can support both the patient and the members of the care team to improve patient and family engagement. Here are two recent examples: 

A few years ago, we instituted advanced technology of the nurse call system that captures and tracks patient's requests along with response time indicators. The information for the patient's request was sent to an iPhone as a secured text message and received by RNs and our clinical care technicians. When receiving the message, they would need to stop what they were doing and pick up their phone, log in and read the request. Recently, the care team thought a hands-free option would add value and allow them a quicker response time. The organization provided the care team members with a "badge" that supports two-way conversation — hands-free. This innovative step was tested within one 26-bed oncology/hematology step-down unit and was a driver in the improved HCAHPS scores that followed. 

In our quest to enhance patient engagement through "Always Thinking Ahead," every year at budget time, we set aside dollars to be used to support the ideas generated by any member of the care team. The CEO and senior team are committed to supporting the care team as they always think ahead to meet the needs of our community. A nurse within the operating room thought text messaging parents of children during surgical procedures would be possible and kind. Her idea was awarded dollars in the form of an Always Thinking Ahead grant. There was great excitement to support this program, and nurses in our operating room worked closely with our IT experts to build a HIPAA-secured platform that could be used in all mobile carriers. This enhancement now allows nurses in the OR to text family members outside the operating room. The team created a way to translate messaging into seven different languages. The response from the parents has been overwhelmingly positive. The enhanced technology is scalable and will soon be implemented throughout the entire OR and procedural areas. 

Manny Rodriguez
Chief marketing, experience and customer officer of UCHealth (Aurora, Colo.) 

UCHealth now offers a virtual assistant, Livi, who allows patients to interact universally across the healthcare system using conversational AI. She is accessed through UCHealth's website, mobile app and voice assistants, like Amazon Alexa. This technology is one of the most comprehensive offered by a U.S. healthcare system, assisting with search functions including finding doctors, services, locations and health information. Livi connects to an individual patient's health record when one is logged into the mobile app or website. Patients can use Livi to do such things as send messages to doctors, view test results and appointments and receive reminders to check in online.

Our vision for Livi to be a fully functional, all-inclusive virtual assistant doesn't stop there. We want her to help our patients stay healthy and live life to the fullest, so we've developed Livi to offer users access to lifestyle information beyond personalized and general healthcare information. We're focused on building diverse skills so users can easily find out the moon phase for a night hike in the mountains or locate the best place to check out the summer wildflowers. She can provide updated weather forecasts, ideas for recreation in Colorado, news about local sports teams or concerts and how to get tickets, what the pollen count is for those who have allergies, topical stories from our blog, and more. Since going live, Livi has chatted with more than 77,000 users across 245,000 queries. Thanks to Livi, we are learning more than ever about what patients want and need from us, and with that, we can continually improve her skills to meet those needs. Conversational AI is a technology that has the opportunity to offer 24/7 access to information in an engaging, conversational way. There are plenty of hurdles to scale to get to that 'ultimate' experience, but it's an exciting time to watch the pieces fit together.

Sara Saldoff
Senior director, digital marketing and customer experience at OhioHealth (Columbus)

When we first launched our [MyOhioHealth] app three years ago, we were working fast to get to market quickly in order to highlight a feature we built for new patient scheduling.

At the time, we were solving for two issues:

  • how could we let our customer know what the wait times were at our urgent cares
  • how could we make scheduling for new patients easier than using our existing digital tools which were challenging and confusing

Putting on our customer hats and understanding the retail experience, we set out to create an experience that was reflective of what customers want. 

To save time, we built the app on a platform called Cordova, which allows you to develop for both Apple and Android at the same time. The initial customer experience was great, and we solved the problems of wait time and scheduling.

But through our ongoing usability testing, problem discovery and analytics review, we knew we could do more to engage our patients. For instance, we understood that they wanted quicker information on our app, more functional interactions and answers to why shortcuts they use in other apps weren't available on ours.

That's when we knew we had outgrown our platform and it was time to relaunch our app in native languages for Apple and Android. This means that all of the benefits of using a specific phone, whether that's a shake to undo something or sharing functionality, we could now offer to enhance the experience.

We were also able to add a first-time user experience for new users to explain the features of our app.

Plus, we also proudly feature MyChart Bedside when patients enter the hospital, where they can access real-time information about their stay with us, through MyChart available through the app.

Our new app continues to push OhioHealth on its digital transformation, making it easier for our customers to do the things they need to do and get back to living their healthier lives.

The results are paying off, as we continue to see a steady increase in engagement and downloads of our app. Additionally, we have seen an increase in user ratings and reviews in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, where we have a 4.7/5.0 rating and 4.6/5.0, respectively.


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