Navigating Through COVID-19: A Comprehensive Digital Health Strategy

For hospitals, developing innovative digital solutions that work in a multi-channel era means truly listening to patients, providers, and staff.

A common question among hospital and health system executives is how to optimize their digital capabilities. To answer this question, Greensboro, N.C.-based Cone Health quickly realized the key to developing innovative digital solutions that work in a multi-channel era means truly listening to patients, providers, and staff. 

In this American Hospital Association webinar, Cone Health’s Chief Operating Officer Mary Jo Cagle, MD, and Guidehouse Partner David Burik discussed the past, present, and future impact of COVID-19 on provider digital and consumer experience strategies – including:

  • What caregiver engagement should look like in healthcare
  • How to move from paternalistic to consumer-centric patient engagement
  • Best practices for leveraging analytics to better understand health inequities and connect with impacted communities
  • The importance of agility in a volatile environment 

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Read more for a summary of the conversation.

Within Cone Health’s market, the highest percentage of its population is managed Medicare, so solutions need to be “easy enough for my eighty-six-year-old mother and cool enough for my 29-year old son,” said Dr. Cagle.

Telehealth delivers value for both patients and providers.

Experts report a 6,000% growth in telehealth in telehealth and a 92% increase in use since the start of the pandemic, with internal medicine, psychiatry, and social work users topping the list.

When telehealth visits surged at Cone Health during the pandemic, so did patient satisfaction scores. An improved no show rate of less than 10%, down from 30-40%, and CG-CAHPS scores that jumped by more than 3% meant Cone Health could indeed improve patient satisfaction with access.

The public was relieved to know there were opportunities for virtual visits when they were afraid to be in person.

Digital solutions foster creativity within the workforce.

By empowering its people to solve problems, Cone Health was soon hosting everything from dietary consults to rehab visits and physician conferences digitally.

  • Physicians were choosing their own platforms for consults.
  • Nursing and IT staff were finding ways to virtually connect patients to families due to strict visitor policies.
  • Staff updated the homepage of Cone Health’s website to feature informational resources about COVID-19, including test and vaccine availability.

However, the digital strategy at Cone Health was not limited to telehealth. With an 80% female workforce, IT leaders quickly pivoted to help working mothers provide suitable laptops to educate children remotely using older models stored in hospital warehouses. And human resources implemented flexible scheduling options to ensure adequate childcare when statewide stay-at-home orders were enforced, and businesses were closed.

Dr. Cagle elaborated further to say psychiatrists advised on providing digital platforms for peer support and counseling to deal with clinician burnout. “This is all part of the digital story,” she said.

Focusing on the patient and provider experience will garner success.

Ultimately, Cone Health standardized on specific platforms knowing patients wanted to use their phones and clinicians needed solutions that worked with unique clinical workflows. Dr. Cagle acknowledged IT installations failed historically because leaders didn’t focus on the patient or hear what providers were saying about what would best enable care delivery.

During the webinar, Burik reminded listeners that industry competition remains intense and while geography and physicality don’t impact digital disruptors, cybersecurity does. He also explained how market segmentation is no longer just the hospital payer mix – whomever owns the digital front door will own the referral patterns.

Hospitals and health systems need to play up the strengths of what some venture-capital based new market entrants don’t have to make it easier for patients to reach them. Stratifying and understanding personalized care for a busy mother with children and a patient suffering from a chronic disease are going to require different care treatment plans and different engagement strategies.

Burik challenged hospital executives to play detective and find out how many of these market disruptors have landed in communities, assess what percentage of patients don’t have a primary care physician (PCP), and which bold moves must be taken if those patients’ PCPs become an app based in another state.

New market entrants such as digital disruptors are systematically targeting patients in every community. A rigid resistance to change coupled with a shifting margin in this age of digital tug of war will require hospitals to take an enterprise risk management approach to thrive.

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