More on Patient Engagement

Baptist Health uses digital technology for improved patient follow-through

Financial wellbeing depends on earning a patient's loyalty for life, says VP of business innovation and development.

Mallory Hackett, Associate Editor

Since Jacksonville, Florida-based Baptist Health System deployed digital patient engagement tools across its facilities, the system has seen a rapid turnaround in how its patients interact with the network.

Baptist Health's 10 emergency departments serve more than 320,000 patients each year, and about 60% of these patients get instructions to follow up with their primary care doctor, according to the health system. Before launching LifeLink chatbots in its facilities, only about half of those patients followed through and scheduled appointments.

Using a traditional call center to reach out to each patient following their emergency department visit wasn't yielding the results to make that investment worthwhile, according to Catherine Graham, vice president of business innovation and development at Baptist Health.

"We had to figure out another way to do it, and we had to figure out a way to do it that was consistent with the way people live the other part of their lives outside of healthcare," Graham told Healthcare Finance News. "Hence the bots."

LifeLink provides digital assistant solutions through conversational chatbots. In the case of Baptist Health, the bots reach out to every patient by text once they leave the emergency room to recommend follow-up care with a primary care physician and help them navigate how to schedule an appointment.

Since launching LifeLink this February in its five hospitals and over 200 ambulatory care centers, Baptist Health has seen the number of follow-up appointments increase by 15%.

"We saw a major opportunity to improve care continuity, reduce the chances of ED readmissions, and improve referral network integrity," Graham said in a statement. "This technology allowed us to scale our population health outreach to contact every discharged patient."

In March, as the COVID-19 virus took hold in the U.S., Baptist Health was presented with another patient engagement challenge: How to interact with patients when physicians couldn't physically see them.

In response, the health system launched another tool from LifeLink: a COVID-19 screener that aligned with county and state care guidelines. The screener was implemented system-wide in under two weeks, according to Baptist Health.

The screener explains COVID-19 risk factors, provides a list of symptoms and assesses if the patient should get tested. It then routes people to the appropriate care outlet if one is needed.

"It took them to access in-points where they had an answer, not a dead end," Graham said. "'Here's where you get tested; here's a nurse hotline that can help you answer these questions; here's a 24/7 virtual visit.'"

Patient engagement, done correctly, gives consumers buy-in and involvement in their own care, which creates better health outcomes, according to the World Health Organization. Not only is active patient engagement essential for patients, but it is "critical for the sustainability of health systems worldwide," according to the WHO.

For Baptist Health, an engaged patient represents the degree to which the health system has earned the patient's choice of care.

"It's a lifetime of them choosing us," Graham said. "But we understand we've got to earn that relationship, and that relationship over time is what allows us financial wellbeing."

Patient engagement technology, such as what is being used in Baptist Health, has the potential to have a direct or indirect impact to either improve net revenue or decrease the cost of care. It can lead to reducing the length of stays at skilled nursing or other post-acute facilities, fewer surgical cancellations and improved market share.

Although Graham recognizes that implementing digital tools in healthcare is the way forward, technology cannot replace traditional in-person care.

"Without empathy," she said, "without quality, without affordability, the best digital journey is hollow."

Twitter: @HackettMallory
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The Business of Health

This special collection of stories, which will be updated throughout the month, explores how hospitals, health systems and physicians are attempting to not only financially survive, but thrive, under the new normal.