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One Technology Executive on How to Bring Amazon-Style Digital Innovation to Healthcare

June 14, 2018
by Heather Landi
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Health systems across the country are focused on digital transformation with an eye toward lowering costs and improving access to and quality of care. At Seattle-based Providence St. Joseph Health, technology leaders are making significant advances in the health system’s digital journey, offering robust capabilities that empower patients to become more active participants in their own health.

Aaron Martin, executive vice president and chief digital officer of Providence St. Joseph Health (PSJH), is a key player in driving digital innovation across the health system. Martin is responsible for the digital, web, mobile and online marketing channels for PSJH, and he also serves as managing general partner of Providence Ventures, a $150-million-dollar healthcare IT venture fund.  A former Amazon executive for 10 years, Martin also previously worked at McKinsey & Company, and he was an executive/founder of two early-stage technology companies funded by New Enterprise Associates and Mayfield.

PSJH is a health system that includes Providence Health & Services and St. Joseph Health, with facilities in Alaska, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington. PSJH has 119,000 caregivers who serve 50 hospitals, 829 clinics, and hundreds of programs and services.

Martin joined PSJH four years ago, and since that time, the health system’s digital team has been keenly focused on leveraging technology to provide patients and consumers better access, convenience and personalization. Martin brings his unique experience and expertise in consumer-facing digital technology to healthcare. “Traditionally healthcare, on the provider side, has been a B2B (business-to-business) industry, so traditionally not focused on consumers. For 10 years I worked at Amazon and now I’m bringing in that focus on the consumer and looking at it from the perspective of, how do we engage with patients, especially in a digital context? It’s about setting a high bar for customer service to our patients and to our consumers who are working with us,” he says.

Aaron Martin

One of the significant hurdles facing patient care organizations in this ongoing digital transformation journey is meeting consumers’ expectations, and at a time when the healthcare industry is generally behind the digital curve.

“Consumer expectations are such that consumers, and particularly Millennials, are not going to put up with this notion that I have to make a phone call to do anything. They want self-service wherever they can possibly get it; the expectation of the consumer is that you should be able to find and schedule a physician or a clinician appointment just as easily as you can make a restaurant reservation on OpenTable. There’s just a higher bar of expectations out there, which I think is great,” Martin says.

Technology leaders at PSJH are addressing these challenges, with a focus on building digital capabilities that ensure the health system continues to own and drive patient experiences and relationships, while also addressing the broader set of strategic problems for different patient populations.

Driving Digital Engagement

Foundational to PSJH’s digital strategy, Martin says, is delivering a ‘10x better experience’ online to entice healthcare consumers to work with the health system online, as opposed to offline. Once the health system has interacted with patients online, the second aim is to engage on an ongoing basis through a personalized health platform.

“Your digital experience has to be 10 times better than your offline experience to cause consumers to change behavior. Think about technologies such as Netflix, Amazon and Lyft, those are an order magnitude better experiences than what they replaced, and that’s what is needed to cause consumers to change their behavior.”

With this in mind, the health system’s digital team built PSJH’s Express Care suite of services for non-emergency, low-acuity care. As part of this suite of services, PSJH offers 33 Express Care Retail clinics to provide same-day visits as well as the Express Care Virtual platform enabling patients to see a nurse practitioner from their smartphone, tablet or desktop computer. Also, the health system launched Express Care at Home, a service that enables patients in the Seattle market to summon a provider, through an online platform, to come to their home or office to provide healthcare services.

According to PSJH, Express Care is projected to have well over a hundred thousand visits in 2017 with over 10,000 coming in digitally through Virtual Visits and At Home Visits. Net promoter scores, an indicator of customer satisfaction, for Express Care range from ~65 to ~85, on par with major technology companies like Apple and Amazon, Martin says.

The next challenge that Martin and the digital team tackled was finding ways to engage consumers an ongoing basis. “Healthcare is challenging because unlike other industries and services we use as consumers, there isn’t a natural engagement model that is frequent. Healthcare consumers and patients often only interact with the system episodically if ‘something is wrong’. How do you create that engagement between episodes of care?”

Martin continues, “Some industries and some companies have naturally occurring engagement models that are better than healthcare. We’re based in Seattle, so just down the street is Starbucks, and I use their product every single day. So, when they are transitioning me to an online state, by using their app, they have an engagement model that is just naturally occurring, because it’s daily for me.

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