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Building a healthcare experience centered around human-to-human caring

An executive Q&A with Jeff Shoemate, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Allina Health


Despite all of the new and exciting technology entering the healthcare space these days, healthcare organizations still have to determine how they’ll differentiate themselves when it comes to personalizing the human-to-human interactions essential to healthcare services.

Whether you refer to it as disruption or a new evolution of the industry, healthcare organizations should accept that this requirement is the new normal, and make investments and decisions around tools, technologies, and strategies that will enable them to build deeper, more meaningful, and longer-term relationships with their patients.

As Allina Health Senior Vice President and Chief of Marketing Jeff Shoemate puts it, “It’s their money they’re spending—they’re going to decide where it gets spent, and we need to give them a reason to choose us.”

Read more to learn from Jeff how he’s building an experience at Allina Health that patients prefer and that drives good healthcare outcomes at the same time.

In what ways does Allina Health work with human understanding to treat patients?

At Allina Health, we believe that even amidst all the disruption and new technology in the healthcare space, at the end of the day, healthcare is going to be fundamentally about human-to-human caring. We talk about this concept of human-to-human caring as a key component of what we stand for as a brand, and it’s what we want people to think about when they think of Allina Health. We think love—making patients feel loved by delivering a whole-person care experience—is an important ingredient in making sure they have a good experience at our organization. That means we aren’t just fixing what’s broken clinically or medically with any given patient, but are taking it a step further to ensure we’re also caring for their mind, body, spirit, and even social needs. We know there’s more to providing a positive healthcare experience than just the clinical side of that interaction.

Can you offer some examples of how Allina Health is addressing whole care for patients?

The vast majority of our primary-care clinics have mental-health services integrated into the facility. So if you’re diagnosed with a mental-health issue, we don’t have to refer you somewhere else. We don’t disrupt your continuity of care for a patient. Instead, we can take care of them right then and there. We also know that social determinants play a major role in patients’ health and lives. As a result, we’re part of an accountable-care-communities experiment that allows us to screen patients for social conditions like food insecurity, housing issues, and violence in the home.  Through this, we’ve demonstrated we provide better care for those patients and thoroughly understand our patient population as a whole.

Additionally, we have started to implement an online tool called Patient Wisdom. With Patient Wisdom, a patient can fill in some information about themselves before their appointment. Our doctor then looks at that information before the appointment and already knows, when the patient comes in complaining about a hurt knee, that they recently ran their first marathon and that they’re really looking forward to qualifying for Boston. The appointment then becomes a more personalized experience, and the patient feels like the doctor really took the time to understand their needs—and then the whole dynamic of that relationship changes.

How do you measure the work you’re doing to improve the patient experience and build loyalty at Allina Health?

We do a lot of measuring of experience—including through our relationship with NRC Health—that we think will help us accelerate the pace at which we get insights and take action based on them. We benchmark against other care delivery organizations, and increasingly compare ourselves and goal-set against out-of-industry examples that are doing a great job when it comes to consumer experience. Those findings allow us to build an infrastructure and corresponding habits, so we can act on that feedback quickly and effectively.

Our philosophy and how we measure ourselves fall under the idea of what we call a branded consumer experience. In other words, if we want to build this brand into something that’s meaningful and drives preference among patients, we have to first think about how we can truly differentiate our experience around meaningful points of care. From there, we can focus our efforts on a few specific initiatives instead of pursuing a general desire to improve all of our experience touchpoints. It’s a brand strategy that we employ to redesign and improve our patient experience.

At the end of the day, we need to focus on getting people within the healthcare industry focused on human-to-human care. Ultimately, the strategy has to work for them in order to work for the consumer and the patient.