Vir­tual vis­its help re­la­tion­ships bloom

Modern Healthcare - - INNOVATIONS - By Rachel Z. Arndt

Hos­pi­tal Sis­ters Health Sys­tem has good man­ners: In a move rem­i­nis­cent of rom­com dat­ing, a day or two af­ter a pa­tient’s first telemedicine visit, the health sys­tem calls the per­son, re­mind­ing him or her what a good time they just had. Like any bud­ding re­la­tion­ship, the goal is to get a sec­ond date.

But Spring­field, Ill.-based HSHS won’t set­tle for more of the same. In­stead, it wants that sec­ond date to be in per­son, with a pri­mary care provider.

The 15-hos­pi­tal sys­tem’s tac­tics have been some­what suc­cess­ful, with 18% of telemedicine pa­tients who ask for a pri­mary care ap­point­ment later be­com­ing in-per­son pri­mary care pa­tients.

When HSHS, in part­ner­ship with Carena, launched its vir­tual Any­time Care in 2015, it wanted a way to turn re­mote pa­tients into loyal cus­tomers. With the start of Any­time Care, HSHS be­gan fol­low­ing up with telemedicine pa­tients—most of whom are be­tween 19 and 35 years old— over the phone, giv­ing each a call within 48 hours of the vir­tual en­counter.

“The mar­ket seg­ments that are par­tic­u­larly in­clined to like vir­tual health are also the same ages that are less in­clined to have a pri­mary-care re­la­tion­ship,” said Frances Dare, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor in Ac­cen­ture’s health strat­egy prac­tice. “This is a great way to en­cour­age those folks to get into a re­la­tion­ship with a pri­mary-care doc.”

HSHS hired Natalia Sk­aggs to make the phone calls, which Kim Schneider later took over, to talk with pa­tients about their ex­pe­ri­ences and tell them about the ben­e­fits of hav­ing a pri­mary-care provider.

“We talk a lot about the value of the pri­mary-care provider in help­ing you not get sick,” said Jea­neene Ge­sell, Any­time Care ser­vice line man­ager. “Our mantra is that if you don’t have a pri­mary-care provider, you need one.”

Though just over half of pa­tients ac­tu­ally pick up the phone, the calls that get through have been ef­fec­tive: 33% of pa­tients who pick up the phone even­tu­ally see HSHS clin­i­cians in per­son.

That’s good for pa­tients, who get pre­ven­tive care, and it’s good for the hos­pi­tal sys­tem, which gets a boost in pa­tient loy­alty and its bot­tom line. As more providers adopt vir­tual care, it’s cru­cial for sys­tems like HSHS to hold onto pa­tients once they get them, whether that first visit is in per­son or across a screen.

“A lot of health sys­tems can po­ten­tially have their re­la­tion­ships with their pa­tients dis­rupted be­cause some of th­ese vir­tual care providers are com­peti­tors,” Dare said. One ben­e­fit to con­vert­ing pa­tients, then, “is pa­tient stick­i­ness.” As Ge­sell ex­plained, once a pa­tient is in the sys­tem, he or she tends to con­tinue with the sys­tem.

While HSHS was grow­ing its pri­mary-care re­la­tion­ships, it also wanted to keep feed­ing the vir­tual-care pro­gram, so it launched Any­time Care for all of its em­ploy­ees cov­ered un­der the HSHS Healthy Plan. That way, em­ploy­ees could ex­pe­ri­ence the vis­its and en­cour­age oth­ers to seek care dig­i­tally.

For both ef­forts to work, the telemedicine ef­fort had to be suc­cess­ful. For HSHS, it has been. In the first half of fis­cal year 2017, telemedicine vis­its have grown by more than 20% ev­ery month for a monthly av­er­age of 169 vir­tual-care pa­tients. Each pa­tient waits an av­er­age of 12 min­utes for a visit that lasts, on av­er­age, 20 min­utes.

“It’s a great ex­am­ple of how you can use tech­nol­ogy to re­ally im­prove the health­care sys­tem,” said Carena CEO Ralph Der­rick­son. “The big ben­e­fit is that it’s in­te­grated with all their reg­u­lar care.”

That ef­fi­cacy is part of the rea­son the phone call strat­egy works, Ge­sell said.

“It’s re­ally about get­ting them right af­ter they’ve had a warm and fuzzy visit,” she said. “Tim­ing is ev­ery­thing.”

The phone call also works be­cause of the tone HSHS takes.

“We’re tak­ing a stand and say­ing, ‘You need to come to us,’ ” Ge­sell said.

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