The Strategic Role of the Healthcare CIO in Driving Consumer Engagement
By Chris Catallo, Chief Business Development Officer, Healthgrades
Healthcare chief information officers are critical enablers of enterprise evolution. Many of the technologies they evaluate and business challenges they must solve for didn’t even exist a decade ago. Key domains include data governance, interoperability, and optimization of anchor systems like revenue cycle management and EHRs. None of these domains is going away, but as health systems become more consumer-centric, the role of the CIO is expanding.
A major driver of these changes? Healthcare consumerism. Consumers want a consistently sophisticated digital experience, regardless of where they enter your health system, and steady engagement throughout their patient journey. These expectations aren’t new, but the need to communicate digitally and treat patients virtually during COVID-19—along with accelerated infiltration by consumer-savvy disruptors—drove short-term investment decisions. Now CIOs are having to step back and evaluate which digital technologies will best integrate with their ecosystem, fill operational gaps, and extend the value of core systems. In the process, they have become central architects of larger patient acquisition and retention transformations designed to increase revenue and patient lifetime value to restore sustainable margins.
Think beyond portals to engage patients
Too often, when CIOs are asked about their digital strategy, it centers on their patient portal and a minimally interactive website. Mobile apps and chatbots are also mentioned, but not as a cohesive, connected strategy. Thanks to meaningful use, nearly all hospitals now offer patient portal access via their EHR. Those most advanced in their consumer-first approach have integrated wellness apps, symptom checkers, and other mobile features with their baseline portals. This is unprecedented access, yet adoption was anemic until COVID-19, when patients were required to register through the portal for virtual visits. Many health systems pin their hopes on portal enhancements to drive engagement. But there’s a catch. Only patients can use the portal. It may improve patient loyalty, but it doesn’t enable health systems to grow by building relationships with new patients.
Portal or no portal, the EHR is a system of clinical record, not a system of engagement. It includes patient profiles, but typically they’re restricted to the clinical profile or history and basic demographics. What about other facets of the person that guide care decisions? Patients are patients only 1% of the time. When you reach out to them you want to appeal not just to their health but to their lifestyle.
Enabling intelligent engagement
Appealing to the whole person, whether a patient or consumer, requires an enterprise intelligent platform for engaging consumers, patients, and providers. Anchored by a healthcare CRM, the interoperable platform includes data, analytics, insights, and composable solutions that plug into and extend the value of existing tech stacks. It’s these essential components that distinguish an intelligent engagement platform built specifically for healthcare from a standalone CRM or data management platform.
With this platform, healthcare organizations can guide consumers on their healthcare journey and stay connected with patients in between episodes of care, sending them relevant content via their preferred communication channels. Providing consistent, personalized digital experiences is the essence of patient acquisition and retention, which translates into new patient revenue and higher patient lifetime value. None of this is possible without actionable insights.
Data and analytics for growth and retention
AI and machine learning have made notable strides in clinical decision support; faster, more accurate diagnoses; and individualized treatments. Now that health system revenue tied to growth and retention is more critical than ever, it’s time to harness the same capabilities for patient engagement. Using predictive models, health systems can identify which commercially insured consumers and patients in their service area are likely to need high-value services in the next 12 months, then segment the target audiences and design personalized outreach that resonates with each segment.
Safely amassing increasing amounts of internal and third-party data for consumer engagement requires a data lake: a cloud-based central repository for hosting large and diverse data sets that must be ingested, curated, and enhanced. By overlaying healthcare-specific analytics against this repository, organizations can pinpoint which geographic areas and service lines to focus on, identify the attributes and size of target audiences, and understand patient journeys and opportunities for improvement. The engagement platform calls on this data to create robust 360° profiles of consumers, including household makeup, communication preferences, online search patterns, and other consumer data. Integration with your EHR creates even more robust profiles of current patients by combining clinical history with lifestyle, socioeconomic, and other information.
Applying healthcare-specific analytics to these profiles yields actionable insights that enable organizations to answer strategic questions such as:
- Which patients are loyal and which ones have we lost? Where did they go?
- Which markets should we pursue for new patient acquisition and service line growth?
- What is the impact of outpatient migration in our market?
The interoperable ecosystem
Expanding the health system ecosystem to enable this breadth of actionable insights introduces new interoperability challenges. If you’re only connecting internal systems, HL7 suffices, but today’s ecosystem has no boundaries. To support a robust patient and consumer loyalty strategy, you need to interact with multiple customer data platforms, clinical integration engines, and marketing services systems. That requires an API strategy that creates a fully connected ecosystem, one that facilitates near real-time data sharing, wherein users can get to the insights they need quickly, all while maintaining established security and governance standards for ingested data. Sharing data across enterprise technology requires role-based rules and permissions that limit access to only the data needed.
Here again, the CIO’s big-picture perspective is essential. Health systems have already made significant data and technology investments. With countless point solutions available for digital marketing alone, CIOs must carefully evaluate their current patient loyalty and consumerism strategies and limit purchases to composable solutions that plug into existing technology stacks, fill operational gaps, and extract more value from core solutions.
It’s time to shift
With their close relationship to the entire leadership team, CIOs realize that non-traditional competitors are real threats to their organization’s financial stability. Competing for patients and consumers on par with retailers requires an increasing amount of data, analytics, and interoperability across an expanding technology ecosystem. EHR’s continue to consume the lion’s share of HIT budgets, but the emphasis has shifted to how to combine EHR data with other high-quality data to advance strategic priorities. Digital health, consumerism, loyalty, patient engagement, and patient experience top the list.
CIOs must comprehend the underpinnings of patient acquisition and retention, along with consumer behavior, to make wise technology investments. How quickly they’re able to master this new relatively new domain in healthcare—with everything else on their plates—will determine how adroitly their organization competes based on intelligent engagement.
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