The Three Ways Providence is Bringing Healthcare into the Digital Age

Aaron Martin

After working at Amazon for nine years, people often ask me why I moved to the world of not-for-profit healthcare.  The spark that started it for me was a conversation I had with the leadership of Providence Health & Services a little over a year and a half ago.

The first time I met Dr. Rod Hochman, the president and CEO of Providence, and Mike Butler, the president of operations and services, we had an amazing discussion about the future of healthcare. We talked a lot about how traditional healthcare institutions either need to disrupt the way they deliver services – or get run over by newer, more innovative entrants into the market.

To stay relevant in the marketplace, we said there were some key transformative strategies that healthcare incumbents absolutely need to nail over the next decade:

  • Create a digital platform that simplifies the healthcare experience for consumers
  • Bring highly customized and targeted treatments to patients through genomic medicine
  • Build a culture of innovation within the organization

At some point, we’ll cover all of these strategies in future blog posts, but for now I thought I’d start by focusing on the digital platform and sharing some insight on how we’re thinking about it internally at Providence.

Consumerism catches up to healthcare

With the trend in high deductible health plans, patients today have more responsibility for the cost of their care, which means they are paying more out of pocket for medical tests, procedures and doctor’s visits. That has made them much more selective about where they go for services. They will comparison shop for convenience, value and quality in healthcare just as they do with every other major purchase in their lives.

Providence’s approach to the era of consumerism is to develop relationships with consumers long before they need to go to the doctor or hospital by serving as a trusted resource for health and wellness information and tools. When they do require a higher level of care, we will be there for them and make our services easy to access and navigate – both online and off. 

To accomplish that, we are focusing on three key areas in digital.

1.    Simple and intuitive online transactions

Fortunately for healthcare, other industries, like travel and retail, have already figured out how to seamlessly interact with customers online. To create a similar easy to use platform for healthcare, we have formed a Digital Innovation Group of in-house software engineers to help us build and customize solutions for Providence. The team is led by our VP of Digital Innovation Mark Long, who is the former chief technology officer of Zynxhealth and most recently comes to us from Amazon.

Mark is building a team to improve the customer-facing, clinician-facing and partner-facing aspects of our digital platform. Over time, we want our customers and clinicians to have a simple, intuitive digital experience, and we want our partners (from start-ups to large strategic companies) to have an easier time integrating with our digital services.

We have also introduced the concept of “small batch innovation” to Providence to help us test online solutions in a methodical yet rapid cycle fashion. This product development approach is not a new concept in the technology world but it is in healthcare, and we believe the rigor will help us prove or disprove solutions much more quickly.

2.    Healthcare on demand

An important part of the Providence culture is our vision statement. Every caregiver at Providence operates from the premise that we need to “know our patients, care for them and ease their way.” One of the ways we’re translating this mantra into the digital space is by understanding how we can better deliver services when and where our patients want it. We are starting down this path with Health Express, a remote urgent care service that patients can access from a laptop, tablet or mobile device.  We have also started testing a new home primary care visit service in Seattle that allows patients to request a house call from a clinician within 90 minutes. Down the road, we plan to pursue digital tools that help us anticipate consumer needs based on their past interactions with us. Think Google Now or Amazon’s personalization engine applied to healthcare. It’s about knowing our customer, being contextually helpful and delivering services when, how and where they need it.

3.    Staying connected to our customer between episodes of care

As an organization, Providence’s core strategy is to “create healthier communities, together.” Toward that end, we’re testing promising apps, services and tools that will help people in our communities stay healthy and manage chronic conditions. Mary Haggard, our VP of Consumer Innovation, is incubating consumer health businesses that are focused on health and wellness in the community. It’s early, but we’re really excited about some of the new ideas and progress we’re seeing.

A great example of this is a wearable called Sqord that encourages kids to be more active with the ultimate goal of lowering the incidence of childhood diabetes in the community. We invested in the technology and piloted it in Snohomish County, Wash., just north of Seattle, through a partnership with the school districts, public health and other community groups and partners. As part of the pilot, every local fifth and sixth grader gets a Sqord and participates in a challenge to increase their physical activity. So far, the early results look promising, and we’re hopeful that a fun technology like this will help make a difference at this critical age, which is when physical activity typically drops off in kids due to too much couch potato time in front of the TV, computer or video games.

Providence Ventures supports these efforts in digital and consumer

To support these efforts, we have established Providence Ventures, a $150 million venture fund, so that we can invest in and collaborate with early-stage companies that offer promising technology solutions to healthcare challenges. We’re focusing on funding and collaborating with companies and helping them prove out their solutions in digital and consumer health. As part of this effort, we’re currently piloting 12 new technologies from early stage companies that will help us engage consumers in their own healthcare and develop ongoing relationships with them outside the doctor’s office and between episodes of care.

Providence: A pioneering tradition that dates back 158 years

Disrupting the status quo is easier said than done. But that is exactly what attracted me and my team to Providence specifically.  Providence was founded by the Sisters of Providence who basically started healthcare in the Pacific Northwest 158 years ago and then spread their Mission across the Western United States. Today, Providence serves communities from Alaska to California and is the third largest not-for-profit healthcare system in the country.

The more I study the heritage of the pioneering Sisters of Providence, the more I realize they were some of the earliest innovators in the Pacific Northwest. They contributed to a spirit of innovation that is the hallmark of the region today, which is now the home of some of the most innovative companies in the world, such as Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and Nordstrom. The list is long.

Providence also has amazing clinical talent and a deep-rooted sense of compassion for every patient in need especially the poor and vulnerable. Personally, I can’t think of a more meaningful use of my team’s skills and experience than supporting this Mission. What’s even more exciting is that others from the tech and e-commerce world are being drawn to Providence as well for the same reason. When you take smart people from the tech sector and pair them with the great clinicians at Providence, that’s when the magic really happens.