Why simplicity is the next frontier in health care, and how innovators from other industries will help us get there

By Mark Long

If you’ve ever had to navigate the health care system, you’ve probably wondered, does it really need to be this complicated? The short answer is: No, not in this day and age.

Nearly every major industry, from retail to travel, has figured out how to use digital technology to simplify the customer experience. They’ve identified the biggest sources of friction in the customer journey and have found innovative ways to make the most common transactions virtually effortless. Once freed from the byzantine details of each transaction, the focus can return to the customer and his or her individual needs.

At Providence, we’re working diligently to reduce the friction in health care by creating more conveniences and services online. Here are some of the key ways that my team – the Digital Innovation Group at Providence – is finding ways to improve the patient experience through technology.

1.     We’re assembling top engineering talent with expertise from other industries. While many health care organizations are pursuing innovation, one thing that makes Providence unique is that we’re building a team of in-house product and software engineers. Many of the individuals who have joined us come from outside health care and have helped develop successful apps and online services for some of the country’s major consumer-centric brands. They’re working closely with our clinicians and early stage technology partners to transform the patient experience at Providence.

2.     Initially, we’re focusing on nailing the basics. Though online conveniences have become a basic expectation in other industries, they continue to be the exception rather than the norm in health care. At Providence, we’re working quickly to change that and are initially focused on making sure the basic expectations – from making appointments online to virtual doctor and nurse visits – are well-oiled and delivering an exceptional experience for patients. Once we’ve nailed that, we’ll move on to the bigger challenge of creating healthier communities through new health and wellness tools. Ultimately, Providence wants to keep people healthy – not just see them when they’re sick – and we believe there is tremendous opportunity to use technology to engage people in their health, as well as involve their families and support networks in the process.

3.     We’re spending a lot of time getting to know our customers. My team is focused on three customer segments: 1.) patients and families, 2.) the clinicians who work at Providence and 3.) early-stage technology companies that are partnering with us to solve challenges in health care (because we know this will be a team effort). We’re working with and talking with each of these groups on a regular basis and analyzing data to better understand their experiences and identify the friction points in their interactions with Providence. We are also conducting small pilots to quickly test and iterate new applications and services.

A gratifying Mission

I joined Providence about a year ago. Most recently I came from Amazon and prior to that I had been involved in consumer and enterprise startups and led a turn-around of technology and product engineering at Zynx Health, a clinical decision support software company. My first concern was will the best and brightest join us on this mission? At a 158 year old not-for-profit?

As we are building a team of all-stars coming into healthcare, many for the first time, I am overjoyed at the talent who are choosing to join our endeavor.  Providence’s Mission of serving the poor and the vulnerable is lived every day and helps keep everyone’s eyes forward.  Afterall, aren’t we all vulnerable when there is a health challenge in our families? 

From the Sisters of Providence who brought the healthcare to the Northwest frontier in the 1850’s to the nearly $900 million per year in free and discounted care and other community services that Providence delivers today, the Mission of Providence is alive and well today and fuels our drive to transform the health care industry. It’s a rare opportunity and a privilege for technology geeks like us to be part of something as meaningful as this and to literally have the chance to impact people’s lives at a time when they need it most.