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HIStalk Interviews Scott Booker, CEO, Healthgrades

September 27, 2017 Interviews No Comments

Scott Booker is CEO of Healthgrades of Denver, CO.

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Tell me about yourself and the company.

I have a common thread in my background, a combination of product technology driving marketing solutions. I spent a lot of time in the hospitality space early on in my career with hotels and casinos developing CRM solutions. Most recently, I spent almost 10 years with Expedia, running the Hotels.com brand as president of about a $6.5 billion dollar revenue business worldwide. I’ve got a good mix of CRM and B-to-C Internet from my background.

The main focus of Healthgrades is to provide access to more appointments for health systems and physicians. Our strategy is basically a pithy strategy around choose, connect, and manage.

“Choose” is about providing the very best place on the Internet for consumers to do their research and choose a doctor. The logical next step, “Connect,” is making an appointment. Primarily that’s done by phone today, but we’re big believers in the efficiency and simplicity of online appointment scheduling. We have our own capabilities in that regard. “Manage” is the CRM components that wrap around that interaction with the consumer to acquire, engage, and retain them.

People complain almost universally that the provider directories of their insurers are outdated. What are the challenges in keeping that information current?

You’ve hit on a big one. The stat I’ve heard is that about 25 percent of physician information churns every month because of doctors moving, switching practices, ceasing to practice, or changing the insurances they accept. That’s a real challenge.

We put a lot of effort into validating that our information is accurate. It can come in many forms. One is working directly with the hospitals and what we do from the sponsoring of those listings on our site. We do primary source verification, which  means calling out, faxing out, and emailing out. All kinds of work there to make sure that we have the accurate information. It’s a big part of what we do to make sure that the consumer gets what they need from that standpoint. It is a real problem, but we work hard to try to stay on top of it.

The CRM component and the ability to merge its information with publicly available data gives you a lot of data to work with. What insights can you derive?

That’s one of our core competencies that goes back many, many years. We started off as a quality ratings business for hospitals, where we would take in claims information from every source we could get our hands on and use that information to assess quality for specialties of a hospital. It’s a small piece of what we do today. More of the strategy is what I talked about earlier.

But the information, the data that underlies that, is still very, very valuable. It helps us inform the kind of information that we put on profiles and so forth. It gives us insight as to what’s going on in the region around that hospital that can inform and help management make decisions, and in particular, acquire patients.

An example would be a particular hospital that is saying, “We want to focus on this segment of orthopedics. We think that’s a big play for us. We’re good at it. People have known us for that. How do we go and make sure that everybody in our region knows that?” We can look at the claims information around that region of the hospital. We can overlay that with retail data and demographic data. We build fairly sophisticated data science predictive modeling to go out and reach and target those consumers, whether it be by digital campaigns, email campaigns, print campaigns, and so forth. There’s a lot of insight that goes into that information that we can provide about those patients or customers that are in a particular region.

There’s a lot of insight there that we pride ourselves on. We think that’s a core competency and a differentiator for us. We’ve had data science in our organization as a core competency for many, many years. For the clients we work with, that’s probably one of the things that they most like about the insights they can get from us.

Can consumers use Hotels.com-type search filters for provider location, availability, and cost?

I’ll hit on the cost one for a second. We believe that cost is an area that we need more transparency on. It’s on our radar. It’s a challenging one to go after, but it is something that we’re continuing to look at.

With regards to setting appointments, you’re absolutely right. We provide a bunch of filtering capabilities to help consumers narrow down to a selection they want from an online appointment scheduling capability. You can look at today, the next day, next three days, and so on and so forth. You can look by insurance or by the gender of the physician. There’s many filtering capabilities.

What providers like in working with us is that is in many cases, the rock star physicians, if you will, don’t have a lot of slots available over the next couple of weeks. We know from our research that the next two weeks is really important as consumers are on our site looking to make an appointment. If the physician they look at is not available, we provide a feature where you can look at other doctors in the practice that can also provide that same kind of service and that do have availability within the two weeks. Cross-promote is what we call it, so that consumers don’t have to wait if they don’t want to.

There’s a lot of the same functions and features that you might find in online travel that we’re bringing to the table in making an appointment.

What homework should a consumer do in choosing a hospital for elective care given that the several available hospital ratings systems don’t necessarily agree?

There’s a lot to unpack in that one. We believe that it is difficult to pin quality on a particular doctor, because the quality of care that you get is really related to the team of the hospital you’re associated with or going to go see. That’s where the ratings actually come into play.

We’ve been doing this for almost 20 years on the quality ratings side of things. There’s a lot of sophisticated data science that goes into this. We have a medical advisory board that’s involved with our team, to try to make sure that we are doing everything we can to present the right kind of information from that standpoint.

All of the many quality ratings have a similar intent. The core of it is, what kind of data are they using? What are they risk-adjusting for? Are they using reputation versus not? Some of the publications will use the reputation of an organization, but that’s really just branding. We don’t do that. We don’t feel like that is a representation of the actual quality you’re getting at a hospital.

When you choose a physician, or you’ve got a surgery or something that needs to happen from that standpoint, it’s really about the care team that you’re going be involved with. As a consumer, that’s what I would be interested in. If I choose a doctor, what hospital are they associated with? Then, from that perspective, what kind of ratings do they get overall?

What are the benefits and the challenges of allowing people to rate their doctors online?

I would make an analogy to other industries where there’s typically a trusted third-party site, maybe more than one, where consumers can go to get more unbiased opinion about a particular product or service that they’re offering. You could talk about Zillow and real estate; or Tripadvisor and Hotels.com and travel; or Cars.com and autos. That’s a function that consumers have been taught in other industries. They expect it in all industries from that perspective. When you think about it from a healthcare perspective, it’s very similar. A lot of consumers come to our site just to look and validate based on the patient engagement survey score and comments.

When consumers come to a site to do a review – and I’ve seen this in the travel space — as a company, you’ve got to do what you can to make sure fraud’s not happening. If there’s stuff that shouldn’t be happening,  you take care of that through various validation processes that you put in place. We certainly have that, and probably more so in this case because it’s healthcare. But I think that trusted third-party review process is important for consumers to get some validation that is from a third party.

What we see is that for the most part, people review at a relatively high level. When there is a poor review, we have the capability for the doctor’s office or the physician to respond to a review. The same thing happened in hotels. When we provided that capability for hotels to respond to a review, it put a human from behind the curtain and brought them out in front. The consumers really like that. 

When that happens in the hotel space, you get higher conversion. When those hotels embrace the reviews and realize that this is like primary research — where I’m getting direct feedback that I can respond to, improve on, and make things better — their conversion continues to rocket. That’s the same thing you see in the healthcare side of things. When docs and offices are responding, that helps consumers have a better understanding.

We’re using pretty much the Press Ganey survey when we do reviews on the site. A lot of it has to do with the experience at the office. If somebody says they waited an hour before they got in to see the doctor,  the doctor can say, “Yes, that was an issue that day. We were overbooked. Something happened and we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.” That is something that consumers can understand.

Putting a human behind that review process is really important. Certainly consumers value that feedback on reviews to make a decision about a doctor.

Do you have any final thoughts?

Healthcare is obviously a bit behind other industries in terms of adopting consumerism. But all the executives that I talk to now — and I speak at board meetings and various conferences and interact with CEOs — view consumerism and wanting to be where the consumer is online as a top priority. Now it’s a matter of marshaling their resources and putting the full effort behind it. The systems that do that — that go all-in on online appointment scheduling, embrace reviews, and respond to those reviews to make their experiences better for the consumer — are going to be well ahead of their competitors.

We’ve always been in the CRM business, but we have a new solution coming to the market that is around CRM. We call it the Healthgrades Consumer Intelligence Platform. Other industries have already adopted a similar component. They utilize CRM to aggregate the information about consumers, acquire consumers, then engage and retain them. That whole equation of acquisition, engagement, and retention is something that hospitals haven’t quite figured out yet, but it’s very, very important. Those that do are going to have a leg up.

My belief is that although healthcare has moved slowly, it is moving faster than it ever has, partly because of consumerism. As consumers have to make their own decisions and pay more of their own costs for healthcare, there’s a real opportunity to improve the service and the experience of consumers going forward.

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