Eduardo Conrado is Ascension's chief strategy and innovations officer, a role that 'starts and ends with people'

Last September, Ascension named Eduardo Conrado to the system's newly created position of executive vice president and chief digital officer. In July 2019, he was promoted to executive vice president and chief strategy and innovations officer. 

Innovation within the digital space can mean any number of things in 2019, especially when it pertains to a footprint of more than 2,600 sites of care throughout 21 states. Becker's caught up with Mr. Conrado to learn more about his work, his collaboration with other C-level leaders, his addition of product managers into Ascension's ranks and specific consumer expectations that are informing Ascension's digital strategy.

Before assuming his role with Edmundson, Mo.-based Ascension, Mr. Conrado worked at Motorola Solutions and its predecessor company, Motorola, Inc., for more than 25 years, including three years as chief strategy and innovation officer. He has been described by colleagues as results-driven and extensively experienced in launching critical digital innovation programs in commercial and consumer segments.

Editor's note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Question: You have served as Ascension's first chief digital officer and recently named chief strategy and innovations officer. What are you spending the most time on right now?

Eduardo Conrado: I spend a lot of time on general strategy for Ascension, both on the business side and exploring how that intersects with the consumer and caregiver experience. Much time is spent thinking about the people we serve and our very own caregivers and associates. Where are the biggest pain points in the current setting as compared to consumers' changing expectations? Looking at the technology we have in place, are there any gaps we can narrow in-house or by partnering with somebody to better meet caregiver and consumer expectations? The expectations consumers and patients hold have been trained by other industries, so how do we translate that into the healthcare space?

Q: Can you recall specific examples of how consumer expectations have come to inform decisions made or strategies in place within Ascensions' hospitals and health systems?

EC: We look at the consumer journey holistically, from discovery to selection to onboarding to follow-up and payment and so on. If you look at it from the front-end, from discovery and scheduling, expectations have been set by the restaurant industry. OpenTable provides the proximity and time availability of restaurants in an easy format. That sets expectations for scheduling. We are reinventing our sites to look more like OpenTable and creating that type of experience for desktop and mobile.

For onboarding, expectations have been created by the airline industry. Think about the check-in process: Not long ago, you were good to check in as you were getting ready to board a flight. Now you are pushed to mobile to complete onboarding tasks the day before. The airline industry flipped expectations on that front. We've been working to create a similar experience that's adapted for healthcare.

Payment cycle expectations have been set by e-commerce. We want to think about patients not as one size fits all, but through personalized segments. For example, my daughter is a millennial. Her preference, like that of many millennials, is to be mobile-first in interactions and split bills through mobile devices. How do we bring that payment experience closer to healthcare, so you can do everything off a mobile phone with a simple interface? At the same time, other consumer segments may want more detail. A family may want to look at its unit in a single bill, for example. How do we make it easier to engage on that front, too?

We need to look at the consumer journey holistically and see what differs among their expectations, then put those preferences into play in healthcare.

Q: Since you look at the consumer journey holistically, which C-level colleagues and leaders do you spend the most time with in your work?

EC: Two of my main partners are Ascension's COO and our executive vice president of clinical and network services. They are from the operational and clinical side, respectively, and we spend a lot of time looking at the consumer journey, expectations and caregiver experience.

The three of us are also spending a lot of time on a project we kicked off last year: Mission-inspired Transformation. We looked at eight different areas to influence, the three of us are sponsors for four design teams. We are assessing how consumer expectations change over time and how we address them. For example, our COO is looking at the evolution of the healthcare front door. As we look at different consumer segments and preferences, what do they mean for virtual care, urgent care and so on down the line? He's also looking at the evolution of healthcare at home and aging at home.

We added the role of product manager, which is a role that exists in technology but not necessarily in the provider space. A product manager actually translates consumer or market needs into priorities and works with tech and operational teams to develop unique solutions that match the needs they identified. We created this role last year to bring on product managers who look at different stages of the consumer and caregiver journeys end-to-end rather than at individual applications. I see the product manager role becoming more common within health systems.

Q: What's something about your role or work that might surprise people?

EC: My role begins and ends with people. We are talking about creating experiences for the consumer and the caregiver. Technology itself is an enabler, but not necessarily an end game. I don't sit around and talk tech for tech's sake; I take a very human-centered approach. That's something I think people take for granted. Sometimes they look for the profile of somebody who is a technologist — yeah, at heart we know how to use modern tools, but the importance of this role is around the people. There's also a lot of focus on change management. We are doing change management internally, and in some cases we are working with consumers and patients by showing them a new way to interface with healthcare.

Any time a digital strategy or technology role is created within a health system, look at it as a three-legged stool of a role between clinical, technology and operational. It best impacts the whole business — it's not just the consumer layer. It's consumer experience from end to end. You have to look at that end to end and prioritize the caregiver experience end to end. The two must go hand in hand to enable a continued evolution of healthcare.

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