Rise in mobile search turns provider location data accuracy into revenue concern

The rise of patient engagement, mobile phone use and M&A activity has produced a new challenge for healthcare organizations: As physicians move locations or join a new system, their data isn't always kept up to date, and patients searching online run into outdated information that prevents them from getting the care they need. Health systems are the ones that suffer from a preventable issue.  

That scenario can be problematic for patients seeking nearby care. As individuals use search functions and location services on their cellphones to find nearby locations, the utility of these services is only as good as the accuracy of location data.

Carrie Liken, head of industry for healthcare at location data management company Yext, says the online "patient journey" is a driving force of Yext's solution. "The patient journey centers around search," Ms. Liken says, adding 77 percent of people search for health information before booking an appointment.

These macro trends led Yext to develop its Healthcare Location Cloud, a platform that helps health systems keep physician and facility information up-to-date and accurate everywhere online, to mitigate challenges caused by bad location data, with the ultimate goal of attracting and retaining patients. Organizations can also use the cloud to keep track of data internally on the platform.

In addition to integrating with Google, Facebook, Apple, and Bing, the platform also integrates with other healthcare data publishing websites, such as Vitals, Wellness.com, BetterDoctor, Docspot and more, so when an organization updates information internally, it automatically is updated on the other websites.

"Mobile has fundamentally changed the way patients find and interact with health systems and providers," Marc Ferrentino, executive vice president of strategy and product at Yext, said in a statement. "That means it's critical for providers that their physicians and facilities appear consistently online in all the places patients search."

Here, Ms. Liken spoke about new challenges facing healthcare location data and the downstream affects of ensuring data accuracy.

Editor's note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What are the issues healthcare faces when it comes to data challenges?

Carrie Liken: We're seeing a few trends in healthcare, first being how health systems and medical practices are consolidating quite a bit through mergers and acquisitions The second is a technology shift with the rise of mobile. Mobile is a huge driver of how patients are [accessing] health information now. Basically it's a little computer in your pocket, and anytime they have questions about symptoms, treatments or doctors, they're consulting that mobile device. Health system consolidation means information is changing at a fast rate and systems can't always keep up with their data. That means when patients search for health information, and for physicians specifically, the information they find is often inaccurate online.

After consolidation often physicians will be listed online in the old location, but when people are searching for these physicians online, they're no longer affiliated with the old hospital. It's like Lebron James still wearing a Miami Heat jersey.

Question: What exactly is a location data challenge?

CL: It's two things. One part deals with information about physicians and facilities being incorrect across the internet. The other piece is housing that data internally within these health systems. Many times health systems will say, 'I don't have any idea how many physicians I have and/or I don't have any idea of having a single source of truth for this physician data.' Some use Excel spreadsheets, some use homegrown content management systems, some use more well-known content management systems for physician data, some just cobble it together. Back to the macro trend of hospital, many times health systems will merge and one will have a single source of truth and another will have a different source of truth. The ability to merge those two becomes a big headache.

Q: What are the downstream effects of location data challenges on an organization?

CL: If a patient can't find a health system, doctor or location — especially in very competitive markets like New York, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago — they can quickly look for other options. If they can't find that one doctor at the one health system, there's a high likelihood they'll find another doctor at another health system. And a heath system should never lose a patient because that patient can't find the right doctor to treat his or her condition.

This has revenue implications at hospitals, especially for complex, top service lines like cardiology, oncology and neurology. If you lose a patient to a competitor, that patient is more likely to stick with that health system. There's a pretty significant revenue hit to losing a patient.

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