Buxton healthcare experts Bill Stinneford and Nikki Viner recently joined RWJBarnabas Health for an AHA webinar titled "Mastering an Access Strategy to Prepare for Healthcare’s Future". The trio shared insights into the role that customer analytics play in a successful access strategy.
RWJBarnabas Health, which serves eight counties in central northern New Jersey through a 12-hospital academic health care system affiliated with Rutgers Health, is a Buxton client and works closely with Stinneford, a senior vice president at Buxton, and Viner, a vice president in Buxton’s healthcare group.
Access is about offering convenient points of entry to grow your relationship with consumers over time. Health systems have to be closer to where their patients and potential patients are and more visible. Sometimes the point of entry will be a traditional hospital setting. Sometimes it will be a system or partner-owned outpatient clinic, and sometimes it will be virtual care.
Analytics, like those offered by Buxton, can play a critical role as health systems develop a holistic access strategy. They can tell organizations who their patients are, where they travel from for services (trade area), and the value they bring (visits/volume). Armed with that knowledge, systems can find more patients by identifying trade areas (based on facility type) and minimizing cannibalization to existing facilities.
“There is no one size fits all approach to this,” Stinneford says. “Some people will really like digital; some people won’t. Some people will really like the relationship of seeing somebody in person for certain types of things. Some people won’t. So how do you use analytics to determine who likes what, and how do we meet them where they want to be?”
Understanding consumer preferences
A holistic access strategy provides convenient access to healthcare in a way that reflects how consumers prefer to interact with their healthcare providers. Components of an access strategy may include primary care clinics, multi-specialty clinics, urgent care, virtual care, and other retail or specialty health clinics.
In the healthcare context, access isn’t just about booking more appointments and seeing more patients throughout the day. Instead, a successful access strategy helps health providers grow relationships with patients over time and creates “stickiness” – a term frequently used by retailers to describe customer loyalty.
“We’ve seen that in the past year or two that patients not only have choices – they had choices before – but now they’ve got preferences on how they want to access the system,” says Annie Steelman, senior vice president system strategy for RWJBarnabas Health.
Most health systems operate in highly competitive markets. They’re not only competing against other systems, but they’re competing against nontraditional providers too – Walgreens and CVS, for example.
RWJBarnabas Health serves an eight-county market area in central northern New Jersey that is a “highly, highly competitive market,” Steelman says. “Not only is it competitive within the state of New Jersey, but it’s also competitive because we’re sandwiched by the states of New York and Pennsylvania, where there are prominent premier health care providers in both Philadelphia and New York.”
To be able to compete against traditional and nontraditional healthcare providers, systems must grow. The challenge is knowing where and how to grow.
“When we grow, we’re not growing for growth’s sake,” Steelman says. “Consumers’ changing preferences … really makes it challenging when you’re deciding on a bricks-and-mortar strategy, or [whether] is it going to be more of a digital strategy? It’s really understanding their needs through the data and the analytics.”
Healthcare mirrors retail industry evolution
Creating multiple points of access presents a challenge for health care providers who are more familiar with fewer “channels” of patient care. Today’s health care landscape has many parallels with the retail industry’s omnichannel evolution that has occurred over the past 10 to 15 years: notably, the pandemic accelerated the deployment of virtual care across the nation.
Virtual appointments now account for 10 percent to 20 percent of total medical appointments, according to a survey by KLAS Research and the Center for Connected Medicine. This mirrors e-commerce trends, which rose to 15.7 percent of total sales at the height of pandemic lockdowns from 11 percent of total sales in 2019.
Though many expected that online shopping would replace stores entirely, that hasn’t happened. Smart retailers – the ones who have survived and thrived – moved to an integrated, multichannel business model that allows consumers to shop anytime, through whatever channel they prefer. Today, even online retailers such as Warby Parker, UntuckIt, Bonobos, Madison Reed, and Amazon are opening stores.
“Just like providers all across the country, we saw our digital health visits skyrocket over the past couple of years, and we met that challenge,” Steelman says. “And we know that it’s not going away even though we’re back in person, to some degree. What’s important to realize is that even though they need to have the balance between the online and the bricks-and-mortar presence, the online still has facility implications and workforce implications that we need to think about.”
Optimizing various access channels
Consumers expect the same type of experience from their healthcare providers, regardless of how they’re accessing them. For providers, the question is how to optimize various channels and also how to optimize consumers’ use of those channels, according to Nikki Viner, vice president in Buxton’s healthcare division.
Before joining Buxton, Viner was actually a client. She served as vice president of marketing analytics and operations at St. Louis-based Mercy, a healthcare system comprised of 32 hospitals, 300 outpatient facilities, and more than 2,000 integrated physicians. In that role, she led strategic planning for the placement of new facilities and services.
“It’s really come down to meeting the consumer or patient where they’re at – being accessible and easy to see, based upon their preferences,” Viner says. “It can be virtual, it can be a bricks-and-mortar location, it can be phone calls, it can be texting … it’s creating that full spectrum services and places to get service that a consumer wants.”
The full webinar with the American Hospital Association, RWJBarnabas, and Buxton is available to watch here.