At a forum hosted by the Sacramento Business Journal, panelists Jeff Lewis, vice president of data product management at Comcast Business, Mark O’Leary, vice president of enterprise services at Comcast Business, Katie Simpson, director of strategic partnerships and innovation at Sutter Health, and Chris Waugh, chief innovation officer at Sutter Health, discussed how emerging digital technologies are driving innovation, empowering patients, and improving outcomes. The discussion was moderated by David Lichtman, market president and publisher of the Sacramento Business Journal. Panelists’ comments have been edited for length and for clarity.
How are digital technologies unlocking new patient experiences?
SIMPSON: The great thing about emerging technologies is that they enable a level of continuous, personalized care that supports people’s health in small, everyday moments — digitally. At Sutter, we pursue human-centered technologies that help improve the affordability, access, quality and convenience of the care we deliver to our patients.
O’LEARY: Now that there’s tech and telco in nearly every home, health providers have the technology platform they need to shift healthcare to the home even further. Those same technologies that power home security, home control and home voice assistance can also be used to improve the patient experience. You’ve got IT sensors that are really, really inexpensive. You’ve got voice recognition and AI. And you have high bandwidth going into the home. Healthcare providers are putting a lot of money and engineering resources into figuring out how they can leverage these technologies to create a home for the aging or chronically ill patient.
WAUGH: For us, it’s not just about remote care, or enabling connected homes. Technology allows us to maintain an integrated system. The patient is never going to end up in a position where they can only receive virtual care. The integrated system we’re building communicates and integrates with in-person care to provide what’s needed before a patient comes in for an appointment or procedures, and after. We’re seeing some impressive technological breakthroughs among very vulnerable and sick populations through use of virtual care. One patient, for example, was in and out of the hospital emergency room 19 times. He couldn’t get to medical appointments. He had all but given up on healthcare. We started seeing him virtually, and in the last year he only visited the ER once.
What do you look for in creating new patient experiences?
SIMPSON: The key is starting from the human need, as opposed to starting with technology. At Sutter Health, we begin by understanding what people are looking for in their lives, and from their healthcare. And then we look at the services we offer, finding how we can improve them. For instance, many people find themselves looking for answers to everyday health questions that may seem too small to justify a doctor’s visit, but still need more than a Google search. So, we ask: can we find technology solutions and partners to bridge that gap? We follow this process for all patient groups — for example, aging populations who don’t have support at home. Only once we understand patient-specific needs do we start finding potential partners who can help us drive technological advancements.
Another important piece is patient privacy. It’s one of the biggest factors we look at when evaluating potential partners. We need to ensure they are able and willing to protect patient data as seriously as we do.
WAUGH: We’re always looking for ways to increase efficiency and convenience in care. Consider your ordinary office visit. If a facility sees one patient at a time, meeting one very highly trained individual, in one pretty expensive building, that, as a business model, has limits. So, you start to ask, “Can we, using technology, meet them where they are — somewhere that isn’t quite as expensive or difficult to access?”
We’re also looking at ways we can expand the patient’s care team with a “one-to-many” approach. You don’t succeed in life doing things by yourself, so why would healthcare experiences — which can be some of the hardest experiences in anybody’s lifetime — be any different? We are working on ways to incorporate family members into our patient’s healthcare experience. No one is more motivated to understand what’s going on than, say, a parent, and no one will dive deeper in the internet than a parent to figure out what’s going on with their child. Getting family participation helps get us to a one-to-many atmosphere, and we think that has extremely high potential to continue to drive down cost and improve affordability of care.
We also want to ensure that care providers are properly matched with patient needs. And this is what Silicon Valley is famous for: matchmaking. If you’re looking for a date, Silicon Valley says, “we are going to find your partner for life. If you are looking to go from point A to point B, we’re going to find a driver to get there in the most effective way.” And the same can be true for healthcare. If a patient has a specific need, we want to understand it and make sure we get to the right person at the right time to be the most efficient we can be with resources.
What is human-centered design and why is it important for improving the patient experience?
SIMPSON: Human-centered design is all about understanding the human need, and then meeting that need creatively. One way we do that is we have team members spend the day with patients to help us understand what’s happening in their lives. That helps us see the context for new digital experiences and answer questions like, what are they hoping for in life? What are they trying to get out of healthcare? We use that information to reform how we deliver healthcare in our current practices and aid in building new experiences.
We aim for technology that makes the healthcare experience feel more human, not less. And to get that, the technology has to be designed around human behavior and experiences. We’ve found that when you start monitoring or inserting Internet of things technologies into the care picture without adequately explaining to patients how it’s being used, patients can feel like someone is watching them. It can feel impersonal — like you’re wearing a monitor and you don’t know who, if anyone, is actually looking at the data. We found early on that integrating technology with a trusted care team is important, and can have significant clinical outcomes if done in a way that patients understand and trust.
How can new healthcare technologies help underserved populations?
SIMPSON: One of the most exciting paradigms that technology has enabled is virtual-first primary care. Sutter Health’s virtual-first model was based on patients consistently expressing that they want continuous access to a physician or to someone who can help them in everyday health decisions. They don’t want to schedule an office appointment and wait a month to come in. So, a visionary primary care doctor, paired with Sutter’s Design team, built a virtual-based practice, where all primary care visits go through our My Health Online portal. With that virtual-first model, patients don’t have to take off work to drive to their doctor. That’s also a huge opportunity for rural populations that may live far away from a primary care facility. We can also be more efficient with our office space use with virtual-first care, which leads to better affordability for our patients.
How do I support these new experiences with my existing IT infrastructure?
LEWIS: If your network fails, your ability to deliver all of these really cool, interesting new technologies is zero. Unfortunately, however, many healthcare providers live in a world of legacy networking technologies, where bandwidth is very, very low. And in these environments, customers cannot easily get out of that low bandwidth world because of the economics of those technologies. For these kinds of clients IT specialists have something called software-defined networking (or SD-WAN) that is capable of giving the end user substantially more control over how they route traffic and manage bandwidth.
We once conducted a customer advisory board that included both a Hospital operator and a restaurant chain owner. Much to our surprise we found that the No. 1 type of traffic running through across both company’s networks was music streaming. Streaming, of course, has nothing to do with imaging, or customer record transactions, or credit card transactions. But it turned out that doctors found listening to music soothing while performing operations … much in the same way line chef’s in the restaurants found that listening to music helped them focus on their specific craft. What was evident in both cases was that this type of traffic was not necessarily critical to running the business and not having control over how all manner of traffic was treated on these networks could easily pose problems. So the moral of the story is that if you have no control over your network, you are taking a very precious, very critical asset and stuffing it with something that most of us would consider to be non-essential traffic. By implementing software-defined networking technology on top of their existing infrastructure, the hospital administrators could be given direct control and visibility to route traffic as they wished and in an on-demand manner.
What can healthcare providers do to make digital transformation projects a success?
LEWIS: Healthcare leaders should get close to their network people, and vice-versa. Because as the whole purpose of having these professionals work on your network is the experience to deliver outstanding quality healthcare to their end user. A network’s person’s job is not just to run a network; it’s to deliver hospital services to patients. What we find with clients is that brainstorming all interesting innovative ideas with AI and machine learning and the like isn’t enough to achieve your digital transformation goals. You need to think bigger. You’ve heard about the “office of the future” or “the branch of the future.” Healthcare leaders need to start thinking about the clinic of the future. And if that vision represents changes to the whole patient experience, you need a network transformation of equal proportion to take place.
Unfortunately, even in today’s world, the networks of 20 years ago still rule and limit what we are doing now. So we’re in a place where leaders are trying to innovate against what is likely already an outdated network. So I encourage leaders to really take the concept of digital transformation to heart, and I encourage anybody on the network side to seek out all the innovative leaders, because your network has got to be managed for this to work.
WAUGH: It’s really easy to get distracted. And one of the easiest ways to get distracted is to lose sight of who the customer is. For Sutter, all of our digital transformation is done to benefit our patients, orienting around the human experience and threading technologies together into a complete picture. We also make sure that improvements for patients don’t make work more difficult for our dedicated care teams. For example, our three million patients have scheduled more than one million online appointments in one year alone, and have embraced cost-saving digital programs like our virtual “Fast Pass” system, which automatically offers people appointments vacated by cancellations, so patients can be seen sooner. The way to be successful is to follow the needs of the user.
MEET THE PANELISTS
JEFF LEWIS (Vice president, data product management, Comcast Business)
Jeff Lewis is vice president of product management for Comcast Business, overseeing the company’s evolution of next generation networking, cloud, data center, Wi-Fi and internet solutions for business. His team is responsible for delivering smart connectivity solutions to effectively connect multiple locations, systems, employees, partners and customers across a distributed enterprise. Prior to joining Comcast, he spent more than 12 years at AT&T and BellSouth.
MARK O’LEARY (Vice president of majors and government and education sector, West Division, Comcast Business)
Mark O’Leary is vice president of majors, government and education accounts for Comcast Business’s west division, where he focuses on optimizing enterprise networks for large commercial, government and education entities to support their short and long-term strategies. He joined Comcast Business in 2007 after serving in executive-level positions at various tech and telecom-focused businesses. He holds an MBA from St. Mary’s College.
KATIE SIMPSON (Director, strategic partnerships and innovation, Sutter Health)
Katie Simpson is director of innovation and strategic partnerships for Sutter Health’s Design and Innovation team, a group that works to create a continuous healthcare experience that is simple, engaging and human. She joined Sutter Health in 2009, prior to which she held roles at the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation and UnitedHealth Group/Optum. Katie studied at the University of Minnesota, earning a master’s degree in healthcare administration and a bachelor’s degree in business.
CHRIS WAUGH (Chief innovation officer, Sutter Health)
Chris Waugh joined Sutter Health in 2015 as the organization’s first chief innovation officer, bringing his extensive experience in human-centered design to guide the health system’s innovation strategy. Before joining Sutter, he spent 10 years at IDEO, a Bay Area design and innovation consulting firm. Prior to IDEO, Waugh served as global marketing manager for Specialized, a Morgan Hill, Calif.-based manufacturer and marketer of bicycles and related products.
Moderator: DAVID LICHTMAN (Market president and publisher, Sacramento Business Journal)
David Lichtman is market president and publisher of the Sacramento Business Journal. He first joined American City Business Journals in 2011 as advertising director for the Sacramento Business Journal. Before joining the Business Journal, he served as a regional sales manager for Sacramento-based internet marketing firm ReachLocal. Prior to ReachLocal, he was vice president and general manager for Entercom Communications and Comcast Spotlight. A graduate of the University of Florida, Lichtman also holds a master’s degree from Ohio University.