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Using mHealth to Turn the Consumer into a Patient

Maryland's MedStar Health is using a digital health platform to greet and engage its patients, both new and returning.

By Eric Wicklund

- A Maryland health system is putting its mHealth on the front doorstep.

With the understanding that a consumer’s first encounter with a healthcare provider is the most important, MedStar Health is investing in a digital health platform that basically upgrades the traditional patient portal. The platform manages consumer access across several channels, from the call center to the online scheduling system, enabling both provider and patient to find the best care pathway.

“mHealth is less about doing a cool, sexy application than about providing a service to our patients no matter where they are,” says Mike Ruiz, the non-profit, 10-hospital network’s vice president and chief digital officer. “What we’re doing is providing a (platform) that aligns with what are patients are looking for.”

MedStar is part of a growing wave of health systems looking to spruce up the front door, and they’re using mHealth to make that happen. By communicating with consumers before they reach the doctor’s office, clinic or hospital, providers are looking to establish a relationship that lasts – basically turning the consumer into a patient who will keep coming back when he/she needs healthcare.

It’s a two-way street. By connecting at home, through online portals and mobile-optimized sites, the consumer can register for an upcoming visit at his or her convenience, answering questions and filling out forms that would otherwise have been done in a waiting room. The health system, meanwhile, uses that data to fill out the electronic health record, so that it knows exactly where that patient should go and what resources to allocate for that visit.

The platform also acts as a kind of match-maker, Ruiz says. While patients can choose and book doctor’s appointments to fit their schedules, the platform determines what location and which clinician would be best for new patients, referrals and follow-up care. In essence, they’ll come through the front door and know exactly which room to visit, rather than waiting around in the hallway or lingering by the cellar door.

“We’re aligning the right patient with the right skillset,” he says. “I think this is something that the healthcare industry has long struggled with, and we’ve been working a long time to try and figure things out.”

“Doctors don’t want to be put in the position where they have to tell someone they’re not in the right place,” he adds.

To help roll out the welcome mat to consumers, MedStar is partnering with Kyruus, a Boston-based developer of patient experience tools and services. The company is familiar in healthcare circles, having partnered with the likes of Partners Healthcare, Swedish Health, Mercy, Providence Health & Services, Houston Methodist and Keck Medicine of USC.

Ruiz says the consumer engagement platform is well-established in other industries, such as banking and the airlines. It’s taken some time, he says, for healthcare to realize it has to engage consumers before they reach the hospital, rather than just wait around and do all the necessary stuff once they get through the door.

“Healthcare has a lot of room to catch up,” Ruiz says. “We have a nice, long journey ahead of us.”

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