Mar 14 2023

ATA2023: Finding Inspiration and Moving Hybrid Care Forward

Providence Chief Strategy and Digital Officer Sara Vaezy spoke with HealthTech about facing workforce challenges and lessons learned from ATA2023.

A panel discussion during the 2023 American Telemedicine Association Conference and Expo brought together three health system leaders to share their insights on prioritizing innovation amid economic and workforce challenges.

During the session, Sara Vaezy, executive vice president and chief strategy and digital officer at Providence, discussed how the pressures have created a sense of urgency to develop new business models and prioritize digital approaches. That’s why virtual care has shown its successes as a mode of delivery that works, because it “can help you achieve growth in a consumer- or patient-centered way so that you’re serving your community,” she said.

HealthTech caught up with Vaezy after the conference to ask her about her year so far as chief strategy and digital officer, what hybrid care looks like now at Providence and key lessons learned at ATA2023.

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HEALTHTECH: You stepped into the role of chief strategy and digital officer last year. How is it going so far? What are your top three priorities for this year?

VAEZY: Last year was a really challenging time for health systems, so I’ve been focused on taking those challenges head-on and really assessing what they mean for the future of healthcare. While the first year has been challenging, in some ways, it has also been an exciting time, because we’re breaking free from the aspects that were keeping the industry inert and resistant to change. 

First, as a system, we’re now acknowledging and fully embracing that the environment from a care delivery standpoint is going to continue to become more decentralized, more fragmented. The pace at which new entrants are coming into the market will continue to increase – or at least remain where it is. We are also constrained by the financial challenges, especially the workforce challenges of the past several years, especially last year, so we can’t do it all. Our real opportunity is to create connectivity across that environment. So, that’s one of our first big priorities: Don’t focus on owning it all, but focus on connecting it all.

For our second priority, there are a lot of other functions that make health systems work — support services, analytics, information systems, supply chain, agency contracting — all sorts of nonclinical things that we’re doing individually, and there's no need for that. There is a huge opportunity for nonclinical collaboration across health systems to support us in lowering costs. So, the second priority is nonclinical collaboration.

The third area is how we connect the healthcare experience — physical and digital — and the underlying data to translate into a patient experience, a consumer experience that is integrated. We’re really focused on what we call identity-driven engagement, so we all get different experiences based on who we are. It’s analogous to shopping on Amazon; for example, your homepage looks different from mine because you’ve bought different things and it’s personalized to you. That makes it relevant to your needs, what you’re in the market for. Healthcare can take some lessons away from that as well.

EXPLORE RESOURCES: Realize the power of virtual care with expert insights.

HEALTHTECH: What are some takeaways from ATA2023 that have inspired you or that you might bring back to discuss with your team at Providence?

VAEZY: Discussions around the value of digitally enabled care being an extender of the systems supporting capacity building, potentially alleviating workforce challenges, making better customer experiences. I think folks are finally getting this – and getting away from a lot of the doubts and overthinking. Questions will always exist, but the alternative is that someone might not get care at all.

We have to reshape how we think about telehealth, and I think folks are getting there. It’s not telehealth or a physical visit. They exist as part of an operating environment that is hybrid. It’s not just one or the other, or swapping one visit out for another. It’s a model of care that’s multimodal, that’s hybrid in nature.

I heard less about payment parity than I have. Payment parity really took off during the public health emergency, when we just needed folks to deliver care online because there wasn't physical capacity, clinics were shut down, and we were trying to manage through those dynamics that we weren't familiar with. But on an ongoing basis, payment parity doesn’t take full advantage of the value of bringing technology into an industry. Generally speaking, prices should go down, costs should go down. Initially, we wanted to drive adoption because we needed to, and now we’re evolving past that.

Sara Vaezy
We have to reshape how we think about telehealth, and I think folks are getting there. It’s not telehealth or a physical visit. They exist as part of an operating environment that is hybrid.”

Sara Vaezy Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Digital Officer, Providence

HEALTHTECH: What does hybrid care look like now at Providence? What challenges have you faced to offering a seamless digital health experience for providers and patients?

VAEZY: Hybrid care is difficult to operationalize. It requires major transformation: major care model redesign, major compensation redesign, staffing redesign — all of that. We have an offering called ExpressCare, and it’s this on-demand care approach that we built from the ground up in order to be hybrid. Rather than retrofitting something, that’s where we started. We’ll continue to expand it because there are so many benefits from hybrid care and other service lines as well, such as primary care and follow-ups for specific types of care.

MORE FROM ATA: There’s more to do to make telehealth an integral part of care delivery.

HEALTHTECH: During one of your ATA sessions, you talked about healthcare's workforce crisis and how virtual care solutions can alleviate some burdens. Can you go deeper into that?

VAEZY: There’s a huge element of what we call digital self-service that can help the workforce crisis. Through guided experiences — not just shifting the burden onto the patient — driven by what we know about consumers off the insights that we have, we can support people in finding their own appointments, for example. When you don't have to have already overburdened caregivers do that work, it’ll alleviate some of the challenges around the workforce crisis. You can have folks focus on other aspects of their work that they were trained to do – such as focusing on clinical care – giving them greater satisfaction and joy.

Digital enablement can also be a great augmentation to existing workflows. A big complaint is always filling out the same form multiple times. Technology can simply take those things out of the equation — automate rote tasks. You end up with an augmented experience that leverages the power of data to elevate what caregivers can do so that they don’t have to do the same non-value add task over and over.

HEALTHTECH: What does digital transformation mean for Providence beyond being a buzzword? How did you focus your strategy? How do you measure success?

VAEZY: Unless you get past the buzzy term, you’re just going to be stuck in “idea land” and dabbling in “shiny objects” as opposed to doing something real.

There are many transformation efforts in the technology space going on at Providence. When we talk about digital transformation, specifically on the patient or consumer side of things, it’s really about a few big things. It's about being where patients are, having an experience where folks know what is available to them and offering something they want to engage with.

Next is to capture that demand and do that through digital means. It starts from discovery, when someone’s searching for health advice, and extends until they actually get the care they need delivered. That’s where we’ve focused because we want to be able to serve our communities, reach as many people as possible, get them the care that they need and then ensure that there’s that continuity that they need on the back end to keep them healthy.

So, we measure success in a lot of ways. We measure it just in the number of people we serve, over 5 million people a year and growing. If we can grow that number, and do so in a sustainable way, that’s one big measure of success.

The second is how we’re engaging with people. Engagement has a very specific metric that we look at, which is monthly active users. Looking at it from a digital perspective, a monthly active user is someone who logs in with us at least once per month. We look at how many folks are transacting with us online, which means booking an appointment or conducting a telehealth visit. That means they are engaging with us.

DISCOVER: Five takeaways from ATA2023 on telehealth today and the future of care.

HEALTHTECH: What advice do you have for healthcare organizations whose virtual care–related programs and hybrid care, or just overall digital transformation, has gone stagnant?

VAEZY: It’s actually a natural place to be right now, especially over the past three years where we’ve been exclusively in problem-solving mode related to surge after surge. Now is the time to make these models strategic, enabling us to give even better, more accessible care to more people. 

Talk to someone who's working on it and get some ideas. Don’t feel like you have to go it alone. I think as health systems, we’ve felt that way a lot, that we have to build everything and go it alone. There’s a lot happening right now, and there are a lot of available partners, including other health systems that you can trust, so you don’t have to get sold on something.

Keep this page bookmarked for our coverage of ATA2023. Follow us on Twitter at @HealthTechMag and join the conversation at #ATA2023.

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