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Chris DuFresne believes that the amazing power of technology will enable healthcare to connect better

NRC Health’s Patient No Longer podcast, which creates connections to drive organizational change, innovative strategies, and digital technologies, takes you into the minds of healthcare leaders and innovators who inspire a positive shift in the customer experience.

In a recent episode, “Experience & Marketing & IT, Oh My!,” Chris DuFresne, Vice President of Experience and Marketing Operations for Allina Health in Minneapolis, shares his thoughts with host Ryan Donohue around how technology better connects us to patients.

“My prediction for virtual care is that it’ll stay consistent with where it is now,” he says. “Before COVID, virtual was not super well adopted. Doctors were hesitant. We had some early adopters who really liked it, but consumers were kind of questioning it. Now people have had a flavor for it, and I think they have an idea of when it works—meaning, if I’m at the cabin, it might be easier just to have a virtual visit with my doctor.”

As for a perfect healthcare hybrid experience, where it’s curated and not all telemedicine, DuFresne thinks it will ultimately be up to the consumer to choose.

“There are different modalities available to us as a consumer; the consumer is now expecting a consumer-friendly healthcare experience,” he says. “And it will take a little bit more time for them to embrace virtual even more.”

Healthcare Disruption

With his retail technology background, DuFresne believes it’s about time for healthcare to be disrupted.

“I wanted to enter an industry that was being disrupted and changing to a high degree,” he says. “I have found so many similarities between retail and healthcare. And so it’s been a lot of fun learning healthcare. And, of course, there are differences. There are situations where it’s life and death. I’m fortunate to be focused more on that experience part in the digital space, where you have a little more freedom to try new things—compared to, say, being a hospitalist.”

DuFresne says he’s found that trying to help people look at what we’re doing from a different lens helps. “Healthcare has really high NPS scores, right?” he says. “At Allina, our NPS score for in-person experiences is in the upper 70s and 80s. Apple is, like, at 45 or 50 as an NPS. Granted, it’s not apples to apples, because there’s a digital component—but even then, people give a lot of space and grace to healthcare. And I don’t think it will always stay that way.

If you asked a consumer of Blockbuster 15, 20 years ago how they would rate their Blockbuster, he says they’d give it a really high NPS. “Well, what would they do now if Blockbuster was still around?”

“At Allina, we are really fusing some of the tech capabilities with the experience capabilities,” he continues. “A lot of times, you have a patient-experience team over here. You have a digital team or IT here. Or somewhere in between, you’ve got marketing and digital marketing. We’ve really tried to bring all of those together.”

DuFresne says none of these technology experiences would happen without a whole army of folks doing awesome work and being open to change. He also says that healthcare leaders must figure out how to incorporate digital into the in-person and telephone experience—that’s where the consumer-experience strategy part comes into play, to help ensure that technologies and analog situations are being properly woven into the experience.

“It’s super important to drive adoption and ultimately have a seamless experience,” he says. “If I need a strep test for my kid, knowing healthcare companies were doing all these COVID tests curbside earlier, why can’t you do a quick strep test curbside, so I don’t have to get my kid out of the car seat, lug them in, or do registration? We must think about things differently, and more as our consumers do.”

Measuring Great Experiences

DuFresne says that Allina, like many healthcare organizations, wrestles with determining the best way to measure the virtual-and-physical hybrid approach to healthcare experiences. They have moved from traditional CSAT to NPS to benchmark better with other industries. They tried a version of the Customer Effort Score, but didn’t like its focus on a contact center and first-call resolution. Whether using these methods or more qualitative methods like the lean process of Gemba, the organization is finding new ways to ask consumers what they thought of an experience.

DuFresne admits there’s a whole host of measures to consider. “Digitally, we can measure how many people bounced out of the online scheduling flow. But you can’t always know why,” he says. “Did they not find the appointment they wanted? Was it not the provider they wanted? Or did the timer go off in the kitchen? Did they just need to go finish dinner? It all comes down to measuring how somebody feels—and feelings are hard to measure. So it doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying, but we’re not going to find the holy-grail metric, as you can with operating margin or net revenue in the healthcare world. It’s going to continue to be squishy.”

DuFresne’s organization is undergoing a Salesforce integration, because he believes it’s not all about the EMR anymore. EMR is critical for clinical care, but the value that a CRM can provide allows a healthcare system to better segment its population and offer its consumers more curated content, when and how they want it.

“If a healthcare system really wants to have a seamlessly connected experience, then CRM will have to be used by many people and connected into the EMR more than you’d ever think,” he says. “It’s just really important that we continue to look at how to integrate technology better, because it’s not just technology. I can’t reiterate that enough. It’s about the human connection, and technology is an enabler. If we can know more about our consumers and personalize their experience, we can use data to make communications more relevant.”

In the future, DuFresne says, no matter how consumers interact with a healthcare organization like Allina, the organization will know them. “Whether you’re calling us, sending us an email or a chat, or coming in for an appointment, we’ll know you,” he says. “Healthcare is so important; it should not be complicated in areas where we can simplify it.”

Learn more about how Allina Health is trying different innovative approaches with payer partners, and why personalization is so important, in this episode of Patient No Longer.