Healthcare Picks Up Tips From Retailers About How to Connect

Ingrid Hein

January 10, 2020

About 80% of people seek information online before they become our patients, said Nancy Howell Agee, president and chief executive officer of Carilion Clinic, a nonprofit integrated health system serving about a million patients in Virginia.

"That's a consumer," she told Medscape Medical News.

"I struggle with 'consumer' versus 'patient', as that implies a patronizing relationship," she said. "But when we say they are consumers, we need to own those words and not shy away from them. The fact is, our patients are consumers who can — and need — to use information to engage in their own health."

And lessons from the retail guidebook for engaging consumers are leading to a paradigm shift in patient engagement, said Agee, who took to the stage at the Digital Health Conference and Consumer Electronics Show 2020 in Las Vegas to explain how she is embracing retail digital "front door" strategies to engage patients and improve health outcomes.

The fact is, our patients are consumers who can - and need - to use information to engage in their own health.

For most health centers, adding a digital front door has been synonymous with offering patients the ability to schedule an appointment or fill out a form online. But that's just the tip of the iceberg, said Agee. Carilion Clinic is taking the concept and running with it "in more of a strategic direction."

That "door" starts the whole journey of care. "Our overall philosophy is that engaging patients is about being transparent with information, and trying to do things in a way that is consumer friendly," she explained.

That means making information available when somebody wants and needs it, not just when a provider offers it. And it means providing practical health-education content and payer information in a way that is accessible and easy to use.

"One of the things we don't want is a series of apps so our consumers have to remember a whole slew of passwords," she said.

When users log in to the Carilion Clinic portal, they can view lab results and billing information, request prescription renewals, schedule appointments, and communicate with their care team.

They can also access videos tailored to their diagnosis so that they better understand their condition, can make decisions about whether to undergo a procedure, prepare for surgery, and take actions to help them recover.

People who are going to have a knee replacement, for example, can watch videos to learn what exercises they should do to prepare for the procedure. And "they can watch them over and over again," any time of the day or night, Agee said.

We know people are becoming accustomed to using devices. "Having information readily available on any device — just like Netflix on our phones and TVs — is what they expect," she added.

Carilion Clinic is focused on ensuring that the digital front door meets three criteria.

First, Agee explained, it has to be accessible, meaning it is "easy to use and agnostic to any device, anytime." Second, it has to be instructive, so that "you're actually giving patients something they can use from a trusted source." And third, it has to be motivating, and give users "something to do with that information, whether it be preparing for a procedure or sharing with family and friends."

Netflix for Healthcare

Mytonomy, the video streaming platform and content provider that manages the video component of the Carilion Clinic portal, integrates streaming technology with personalized options related to diagnoses and electronic medical records.

The platform is "like Netflix for healthcare," said Anjali Kataria, cofounder and chief executive officer of Mytonomy, who served as Senior Technology Advisor and Entrepreneur in Residence in the Obama administration,

It fills a void by giving users a controlled, curated environment in which to gather health information, she explained.

Consumers are accustomed to online learning. "We can look up a new banana bread recipe," she said, but challenges arise when healthcare is the subject being searched.

Conflicting information can confuse people and give them false information. For example, a patient with a genetic condition might find information related to the nongenetic version of that condition.

"Our system is data-driven; we learn who the patients are, administer surveys, access the electronic health record, and then offer content," Kataria said. "We offer a 'short bites' playlist to help them prepare for procedures so they can see the entire care journey."

And "we make videos with providers from their own healthacare system, their own doctors," she added.

Currently, about 1000 videos have been created.

According to statistics reports, consumers of Mytonomy content watch an average of 42 minutes, clicking through a list of videos tailored to their needs. "We have an 85% viewing rate," Kataria told Medscape Medical News. And her team is getting feedback that patients are "more likely to show up, are easier to manage, and come in happier and less worried."

"This is a digital front door that is enabling them to participate in their healthcare journey, to do things on their own," she pointed out.

What's more, clients who live in remote areas can access diagnosis-specific videos that can save them hours of driving to and from the clinic. "A series of 30 second to 3 minute videos can provide information that will help users better manage lifestyle choices, take medications, or learn to use a new device," Agee said.

"We know that patients who are more informed about their health have better health outcomes," she added. "We're pretty excited about this process."

Digital Health Conference and Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2020. Presented January 7, 2020.

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