Community Health Network, headquartered in Indianapolis, can truly call itself a leader in healthcare services. Their Chief Analytics Officer, Patrick McGill, MD tells us they have one of the highest physician engagement scores in the region, and their patient satisfaction scores also rank amongst the top.
Another key aspect that sets them apart from other healthcare providers is their strategic focus on data analytics. Whereas many healthcare organisations are lagging in this area, McGill says they believe this is the pathway to future success.
McGill first came to work here as a family doctor around 10 years ago. When the organisation installed Epic as their electronic medical record (EMR), he was asked to work on some of its optimization. This led to a series of roles including Medical Director of Physician Informatics, leading training and strategic initiatives around Epic; Senior VP for Clinical Strategy, and two years ago he stepped into the position of Chief Analytics Officer.
"One of the decisions the Board of Directors made when they created the role of Chief Analytics Officer was that it had to be a physician,” says McGill. “When you try and make data analytics a strategic asset, having a physician lead the analytics and information technology departments really puts a different focus on these areas."
With his background as a physician, McGill understands the need to drive the digital transformation of the business as a way of ultimately improving patient outcomes while reducing costs. But, as with any big change, it's not an easy process.
Community took the approach of transforming just two areas initially.
"One is the patient-facing area to allow patients to have the same experience with healthcare as if they were shopping or paying bills online," McGill explains. "We focused on things like receiving appointment reminders, scheduling appointments online and communications between providers and patients. Secondly, we focused on operational areas that don't directly impact patient care which we could align our business processes. Things like billing, IT operations, and, moving forward, some HR functions like the onboarding of new employees, which we can streamline and automate.
"If we can show people that we're moving forward as a digital enterprise, it'll drive the organization forward and achieve the goals that we want, but still preserve that doctor-patient and provider-patient relationship that's so sacred. We don't want to disrupt that relationship – we want to enhance it."
The organization has been deploying state-of-the-art technology to assist the workforce for a number of years. A good example is the da Vinci Surgical System, a robot-assisted system that helps surgeons perform delicate procedures.
"They've been very successful,” says McGill. “They have been found to reduce surgery time, improve outcomes, shorten the length of a hospital stay after surgery, and patients recover faster."
McGill explains that there is still a degree of suspicion of AI in healthcare. "A lot of the time I feel that AI is slow to be adopted in the care of patients because physicians, nurses and pharmacists really want to understand what's in the black box of AI,” he says. “If they don't understand it and they can't explain it, then they don't want to adopt it.
"While easing into the realm of digitalization, we've tried to leverage AI tools to help augment their knowledge, so servicing algorithms where patients might be at a higher risk of a fall, to alert the clinician to take some extra precautions with this patient, or in areas where the patient might be faster to deteriorate, to alert the clinician that they're at risk of becoming sicker. It's about using AI to augment their decision-making versus telling them what they need to do. We've had some success leveraging predictive models and AI in that fashion, versus being more prescriptive."
In terms of how analytics and AI can benefit patients, McGill explains that they provide ease of use and convenience. "We're trying to drive a patient-centric frictionless experience, whether that's to schedule appointments or consultations, to receive test results or to pay their bills, it's about achieving a true consumer-driven experience.
"Leveraging things like Mychart within Epic as a communications platform, and our partnership with CipherHealth that helps us provide text-based outreach or post-discharge follow ups when patients leave hospital, these types of partnerships are key in creating this kind of patient-centric, frictionless experience."
As well as Epic and CipherHealth, CHNw has several other important strategic partners. Health Catalyst has been a key clinical partner for six years, helping to drive them towards being a data-led organization, while guiding them on an improvement methodology, reducing unnecessary clinical variation and improving patient safety. By using the Health Catalyst DOS operating system enterprise data warehouse, CHNw has made tremendous gains in operational and clinical efficiency. Over the last three years, they have removed more than than $35mn of waste from the system.
Additionally, software created by CoverMyMeds improves the prescribing process, and automates insurance authorization within the EMR workflow. CHNw has piloted and will be launching CoverMyMed’s Real-time Benefit solution across the enterprise. This tool allows providers to see patient cost at the point of prescribing.
They are also partners with pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, who they work with on patient education specifically for diabetes, and Stanson Health (part of Premier, Inc), who have provided a tool that's embedded into the EMR that ensures appropriate care is given.
"It delivers curated content and rules into the EMR silently, searches through the algorithms, and can actually look through the patient chart, searching their history, medications, problem lists and past visits,” explains McGill. “It can make recommendations, for example, if a patient comes in with acute back pain, and the recommendation is don't have an MRI, when I try to order an MRI it will give me an alert to maybe refer them to physical therapy instead. Better quality outcomes with lower costs."
He says a particular area of success with this tool has been with reducing unnecessary lab testing. "We really strive for partners to help solve some of our problems" he says.
In terms of looking ahead, McGill explains that they've paused looking at their five-year strategy given the disruption and pace of change caused by Covid-19, and instead look at their more immediate future.
"I see us continuing to accelerate. Along with our partners, we've built the foundation for a true digital transformation,” says McGill. “We're building the analytics to understand the patient journey and the caregiver journey, so we will have the ability to understand that and strive for a frictionless experience."
"I'm not sure you ever get to where you want to be because there's always continuous process improvement. But I do think that our goal is to continue to focus on the patient and on our caregivers, on equity, whether that's race and social equity, health equity, outcomes, social determinants of health like food insecurity and reliable housing, continuing to focus on those things, and leveraging digital tools as much as we possibly can to achieve those goals and outcomes.
"Our brand promise is Exceptional Care, Simply Delivered, and one of our values is Patients First," McGill adds. "When you put those two together, along with the culture at Community, that's what drives people to come to work here every day."
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