A vision to become the most accessible healthcare system in the country

LifeBridge Health, a $2B Maryland healthcare organization, has been working for several years to fulfill its vision of becoming the most accessible healthcare system in the country.

That means reengineering how, when, and where we provide care. Based on the notion that access is evolving from getting patients to services -- to getting services to patients, LifeBridge Health aims to “reinvent access” by transforming physician and patient engagement.

This initiative originated from a couple of stark realities. LifeBridge Health is situated next to Johns Hopkins, and is therefore shoulder-to-shoulder with a competitor who has significant financial resources and brand name in a low growth market. In addition, the Maryland reimbursement environment is quickly transitioning towards value-based care, with all the pressures and demands for innovation that go along with it. Concurrently, the industry at large is in the midst of an explosion of new digital technologies in all states of maturity and the resulting expense hits and misses.

Leadership at LifeBridge Health viewed these disruptions and threats as an opportunity for the health system to offer patients an “all in one” experience that could improve access across the continuum of care and simultaneously take market share from competing healthcare providers.

Out With The Old

The status quo has been that if patients want care, they seek it out and wait for it. They can wait weeks or months to see a specialist, or considerably less time to see a provider in an urgent care setting. A consequence of the lack of appropriately available services, is that patients will use emergency departments (ED) as a default to get more immediate clinical care. Along the way, patients receive little guidance directing them to the appropriate place to seek care, which is costly and inefficient. A problematic question that arises as a consequence of millions of Americans interacting with the health system every year is, how can we afford a more concierge service without hiring thousands of new staff?

In With The New

LifeBridge Health’s answer to this dilemma has been to focus on direct-to-customer solutions that offer care and services through a mix of technology and people. We understood well that each step of the customer experience is fraught with complications and frustrations. From scheduling to billing, there is an acute need to enhance the patient experience across the care continuum.

To measure the success of this vision, LifeBridge Health uses common metrics like: how many days did it take for the patient to be seen and what was their satisfaction level? Streamlining the patient process comes through well-designed communication systems that align with patient preference. Do patients want to be contacted via text about appointment and medical information? Do they want to be able to pull up an application and do an on-demand visit? From urgent care into the ED, do they want their referral done on-site to avoid scheduling it later? And furthermore with scheduling—do they want to schedule a follow-up appointment so that they don’t go home with just another phone call to make?

For LifeBridge Health, the definition of access transcends the clinical setting, and incorporates the preferences of patients, clinicians, and non-medical staff. This includes questions about discharge instructions, referrals into a rehab facility or post-acute facility, questions about medication, and can even mean getting access to prescriptions.

Technology, Training and Broadening the Funnel

LifeBridge Health understands the need for multiple access channels that are always available. Whether initial communication occurs through the website, a phone call, or even through a mobile device, LifeBridge Health has set out to create an experience where patient outreach is consistent and easy. This is made possible by clinically knowledgeable care navigators available 24/7 to guide patients through the LifeBridge Health suite of services. Though we offer multiple modalities, LifeBridge Health understands that having a highly skilled workforce as a first point of contact is important in framing the customer experience.

Training is an important part of developing this capability. Thorough training empowers LifeBridge’s care navigators, call centers, and virtual support systems with the resources to accurately answer patient questions, and ensure they get the appropriate care. This all comes together because LifeBridge has invested in a CRM tool that allows a seamless user experience across all touchpoints—all of which contributes to the “all in one” experience at LifeBridge Health.

In addition to on-demand, on-call services where patients speak directly with providers, LifeBridge is investing in services that give automated options to make scheduling even easier. Within the year, we plan to roll out strategic initiatives such as standing up a virtual hospital, adding major use cases around telehealth, getting web and mobile scheduling services up and running, and deploying patient engagement functionality across priority use cases within the ED, inpatient, chronic, ortho, and particular surgeries. The positioning for access-focused care began a few years ago, but we realized we needed additional management focus and resources to accelerate our journey. We have demonstrated our commitment to transforming the way our patients interact with our services; we are all in on access.

True Access Requires Patient Engagement

Understanding that a lynchpin of patient access is to have an intelligent and robust patient engagement platform, LifeBridge Health engaged in a partnership with HealthLoop. Following a successful pilot in the Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics (RIAO), the platform has since been integrated across LifeBridge Health’s continuum of services as a unifying patient information experience. Within the first two weeks of a partial “go live” with some ED populations, over 1000 patient were invited, 270 patient activated, and over 100 alerts were flagged and followed up on by members of the care team.

In this platform, patients can easily get information about their doctors and appointments, conditions, pre- and post-procedure instructions, post-acute care support, information and guidance about medications, as well as interact with their providers seamlessly. We have realized that the patients who need to be engaged the most are often the ones who aren’t actively seeking information. By effectively engaging these patients, we will improve both health and business outcomes. We know we don’t supply 100% of our medical patients’ services, but we can and should strive to do so.

By leveraging automation, centralized call center resources as well as front line staff to engage patients, we can deploy HealthLoop without furthering physician burnout. We feel that more engaged patients that don’t require substantial physician time will improve provider engagement. The continuous effort to improve patient experience by enhancing communication platforms with our patients will also help our medical staff get more recognition for the great work they do.

Toward A Modern Consumer Approach

To achieve broader community engagement, LifeBridge Health has brought on a new Chief Marketing Officer from outside of the healthcare industry. Rather than just pushing out advertising and promotional collateral, the CMO is focused on creating a full out, consumer-centric approach comparable to what consumers experience in other industries. Looking to industries such as banking and hospitality that prioritize convenience and choice, the objectives for the CMO’s innovative, experience-focused initiatives will go well beyond making sure patients get the right care.

Early Stages of The Patient Access Journey

Our journey toward reinventing patient access is still in the early stage, but our stakeholders are already experiencing a distinct difference. Patients are actively using multiple channels of communication to access the right information at the right time for logistical and health information. They can now easily and efficiently communicate with our providers, and are enthusiastically taking an active role in their own care to improve their health with the use of on demand and automated health information that is relevant to their situation.

It is clear that the seamless interaction with patients is impacting how our medical staff works, which is reducing the burden that lead to burnout. This will enable us to tweak, refine and become the standard bearer for healthcare access. In the competitive environment for patients, retention of professional talent, and the drive toward value-based care, the importance of being ahead of the access curve can’t be overstated.

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