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Predicting patient volumes: Mary Washington’s data-driven quest for certainty

Health systems have never lacked for data. Every day, as patients are admitted and discharged, as decisions are made and implemented, organizations absorb enormous quantities of information. Taken together, these data points amount to a wealth of consumer data, unrivaled anywhere else.

Gathering this data is second nature for healthcare systems. Making effective use of it, however, is another story altogether.

Leaders at Mary Washington Healthcare, one of the largest independent healthcare systems in Virginia, discovered as much when they decided to improve the accuracy of their volume forecasts for 2018.

Like most health systems, they had the data on hand. But they needed help to discriminate between the most important indicators of healthcare-consumption patterns.

To do that, they turned to NRC Health.

The problem of forecasting

Even for small organizations, predicting patient volumes can be difficult.

If predictions are to have any validity, analysts must attend to every minute change in the organization’s surrounding community, carefully track any ongoing public health concerns, and pore over existing patient records to see whose chronic conditions might bring them back to the hospital.

Even if all these steps are executed perfectly, however, the pressures of healthcare consumerism add further wrinkles to the analysis.

The internet has permanently changed healthcare consumption. Questions of ease, access, and convenience now dominate patients’ concerns. If organizations change any of these factors—or if their competitors do—it can substantially upend predictions of patient volumes.

Reliable indicators

The challenge, then, is to identify those indicators of consumer behaviors that reliably predict patient volumes, as well as levels of healthcare consumption.

Mary Washington’s leaders used NRC Health’s Market Insights solution to do just that.

Market Insights is a consumer-intelligence tool that culls insights from over 300,000 households. It’s the largest healthcare consumer database in the country.

With help from the NRC Health team, Mary Washington developed customized surveys, and administered them to targeted segments of their patient population to learn which factors they could use to improve their forecasting.

Two stand-out indicators emerged:

Indicator 1: Provider Preference Scores

The first valid indicator arose when Mary Washington polled patients on specific providers within their system. They asked patients about which of Mary Washington’s providers they preferred most, and then used the results to assign Market Insights Preference Scores to them.

These Preference Scores turned out to be a highly sensitive correlate to patient volumes: as the scores increased, so did patient volumes. Preference Scores even outperformed other metrics, like online reputation or feedback scores, for correlative strength.

At that point, Mary Washington’s leaders knew to target these Preference Scores for intervention. It would be the best way for providers to secure higher volumes in the future.

Indicator 2: Awareness Scores

The second indicator measured Mary Washington’s performance as a whole.

For this data point, the Market Insights’ survey examined how consumer awareness of Mary Washington compared with consumer awareness of the organization’s local competitors.

The result was the Market Insights Top of Mind Awareness Score, which turned out to have very robust predictive power. Boosting Top of Mind Awareness Scores by 3.8% correlated with a 2.4% increase in overall market share within the following six to eight months.

“We were able to discover that awareness leads to volume,” says Lisa Henry, MHA, Mary Washington’s Director of Corporate Marketing and Communications. “Now, as an organization, we can strive to increase awareness, knowing that volume—and essentially revenue—will follow.”

Decisions, made with rigor

The confidence behind Mary Washington’s pursuit of awareness is, to Lisa’s mind, what made Market Insights so valuable.

With this solution, Mary Washington was able not only to improve the accuracy of their forecasting, but also to target specific measures for intervention with their customers. The empirical certainty that Market Insights granted them empowered Mary Washington with a new measure of operational confidence.

But that’s not all Mary Washington learned from Market Insights. This case study reveals other important insights they gleaned from their surveys, including:

– Factors of survey design that maximized organizational learnings

– Other hypotheses Mary Washington was able to test

– How clinical teams used Market Insights data to bridge communications gaps with hospital board members

– And more!

Click here to see the entire study, and consider how Market Insights might empower your organization.