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Three keys to success in healthcare strategy

Duct tape works, but concrete is better.

Sara Vaezy, Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy and Digital Officer of the Providence Digital Innovation Group, shares the blueprint for how healthcare can learn from the past, build momentum, and sustain great ideas in the latest episode of NRC Health’s  Patient No Longer podcast.

Drawing from the flywheel concept, Vaezy talks about consistently turning the crank on strategy and shares examples from her digital experience on how small innovations can create massive progress over time. She also discusses why healthcare organizations hold a surprising advantage over upstarts.

Host Ryan Donohue, Solutions Expert and Strategic Advisor with NRC Health, talks with Vaezy about how to achieve “health for a better world” for Providence, a team of 120,000 caregivers serving 52 hospitals, 1,085 clinics, and a comprehensive range of health and social services across Alaska, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

Vaezy says that in Jim Collins’s book Good to Great, he references the idea of the flywheel. A flywheel is any great company that has centered around a key (or what they call a “hedgehog”) concept—the one thing they know they can do best. When you start to operationalize the hedgehog concept, Vaezy says, you must put a bunch of pieces together, and those pieces make up an internally coherent story about what you’re trying to accomplish.

“That doesn’t happen overnight, right?” Vaezy says. “You keep turning the crank, and eventually the flywheel sort of takes off, and it becomes this unstoppable force with all the pieces sort of mutually reinforcing one another. In his book, [Collins] says that you can’t point to one single turn of the flywheel that got it to take on this unstoppable force; it’s all cumulative, based on the nature of the different pieces coming together. So now, if we think about it from a digital flywheel perspective, from a consumer lens, it’s about that experience and the different elements of how you knit together that experience that keep a customer coming back, over and over.”

Instead of constantly paying to reacquire customers, for instance, your healthcare system can make itself the place they return to because you provide such outsized value to them as a user. “That’s what we focus on from a consumer digital flywheel perspective,” Vaezy says. “What does it take to create an engagement model that gets consumers to come back over and over?”

Donohue says you’ve got to crank the flywheel: you’ve got to keep it going through its early movements, which are really important. “For example, BayCare in the Tampa area has built an EasyPass system, and Ed Rafalski, their Chief Marketing Officer, will tell you he never thought he’d be able to trademark EasyPass as a phrase in healthcare,” he says. “Like, surely someone’s done it—but no one had. This was five years ago. They built this loyalty program in healthcare. They started small with a couple of primary-care offices, and they finally—through a lot of work, and Ed is a champion of this—said, ‘Hey, we need to expand this to all of primary care.’ And they’re getting fantastic results. They’ve turned it into a communication tool, a scheduling tool, and even a feedback tool. And I love that.”

“When you sign up for EasyPass,” Vaezy says, “they require you to enter your email address. And that’s the first step to getting to know you, right? I think from a customer experience, a piece of advice that I would give folks trying to do this is to ensure that you can get to know your customers and have that experience rooted in the individual. And then, over time, you can start to learn what their needs, preferences, and intent and motivation are.

“That will help fuel for you the relevance of the things that you serve up to them, so that they have a utility that they’re not just going to be these things that you think are valuable to them—they’re actually rooted in what you know about the individual. And so, starting with just getting to know your patients—that’s step one. And then you build progressive, authenticated experiences based on what you know about people, and go from there.”

From a strategy perspective, Vaezy’s leadership team thinks healthcare systems would be wise to focus on three keys:

1) Deconstruction. “When we say deconstruction, it’s really thinking about our business in terms of defined services that we know we can do well, and things that it may be better to work with a partner on,” Vaezy says. “It gets back to Good to Great. What are we really good at? And how do we think about our business in this organized fashion, so it’s not just a loose collection of various services? What are the things we can be really good at, and what things do we need to partner on with others to serve our communities?”

2) Diversification. “Diversification is something that health systems have been thinking about for quite some time,” Vaezy says. “Still, we need to get much more systematic as an industry, and especially as a sector, given that care-delivery economics will continue to erode for the foreseeable future. Given the workforce challenges that we have, given the inflation pressures, given the question whether or not we’re heading into another recession, the economic conditions don’t favor care delivery, so we have to grow into other businesses and create new business models.”

3) Digitization. “That could be either digital consumer transformation, or digitization of the core infrastructure of a system,” Vaezy notes. “All of those things that help to shift the economics, again, make us much more efficient. That’s another big priority. I think the unique opportunity health systems have is around identity-driven engagement. Providence, for instance, promises to ‘Know Me, Care for Me, Ease my Way.’ And that ‘Know Me’ piece is beyond important. We’re not selective; we serve everybody. And therefore, we have a wealth of that kind of ‘Know Me’ platform under our belts. I think that’s the one area where health systems have a distinct advantage. We haven’t leveraged that, necessarily, in the context of what products and services are built on top of it to create this flywheel, but that’s the next phase of what we’re working on.”

Learn more about chatbots, how to roll out technology the right way, and what Sara Vaezy did when she couldn’t find good hot sauce in Seattle in this episode of the Patient No Longer podcast.