Robert Dudzinski is EVP of the healthcare practice of West Corporation of Omaha, NE.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I came to West via an acquisition. I was a CEO and founder of a company that it acquired about five years ago.
I’m a pharmacist by background with a doctorate. I owned, operated, and sold a prescription benefit management company and a mail-order pharmacy. I kept out of healthcare for a little bit and opened up a chain of baseball and softball stores. I had a great time with that. I got back into healthcare and started a company called SPN, Specialty Pharmacy Network, in 2004. That ultimately became an acquisition of West in 2010.
West is a publicly-traded, technology-driven communication company. We participate in about every industry — retail, finance, banking, and certainly healthcare. We’re about $2.2 billion, about 15,000 employees, and we have a full plethora of communication assets. We take a vertical approach, moving from products and services to value-added solutions in the healthcare space.
Providers for years have gotten away with hiding behind phone trees and doing anything to avoid putting a human on the line. Does that need to change?
Absolutely. The rallying cry in the market today is patient engagement and activation. To your point, that’s never been a primary initiative for provider systems. Today that’s very different. It ultimately ties back to reimbursement and now there’s a great emphasis going on in that area.
Now that providers are expected to manage populations, they have to reach out to patients instead of just waiting for them to call or show up. How can technology help?
There’s all kinds of initiatives that are going on today in trying to do outreach at scale and capacity. That’s been the big challenge for health systems and those are the solutions that they’re looking for. In other words, as providers have moved to managing larger populations, the challenge is, how I’m going to touch those people effectively? How am I going to personalize it? How am I going to change a behavior and improve an outcome? Technology can provide some of that success in doing that if it’s purposed correctly and there’s a good strategy and plan behind it.
Everybody has their own preferred way of being communicated with – text message, email, or phone call. How does a provider choose the best medium for each person?
The provider needs to start with an overarching strategy of how they’re going to approach engagement and activation. We here at West always gravitate to the notion of a unified communicate environment where you are providing preference and choice to that patient. When you do that, you provide contextual awareness amongst those channels and you have a sophistication around content that’s being delivered. Is it relevant? Is it non-redundant? All of those things start to roll up and start to create what we would call an enhanced experience. That’s what the provider is actually looking for.
Providers haven’t had much incentive to getting on the phone or email with patients because nobody was paying them to do so. Are you seeing the demand change now that there is reimbursement for keeping contact with patients and not just having them drive to the office?
Yes. Most certainly as payer organizations look to value-based pricing — we’ve heard that term ad nauseum in the marketplace today — it’s going to be a challenge and edict for the providers to reach not just the chronic patient, but those that have yet to become chronic patients. Having a strategy of addressing that population in totality is going to be an imperative for providers. No longer will they just simply have to be reactive. They’re going to need to be proactive in their approach.
I wrote about the free nurse hotline in New Mexico that is keeping thousands of people out of the ED. Is it hard for hospitals to think about being paid to keep people out of their facility?
They have to have a whole new mindset approaching population health and what it means to implement the Affordable Care Act. In your example the nurse line, we have a nurse on the line doing outreach or at least trying to promote a call prior to an ED visit. That’s a great also application for technology.
We have programs here written against our IVR systems that do a couple of things. They do a reminder on a Friday to make sure that the patient’s got their meds filled so that they’re not going to the emergency room because of a need for a refill. Number two, technology that could actually nudge the patient and remind the patient that if they have floss stuck in their teeth, that’s not an appropriate ED visit — they should be reaching back to the care coordinator or to the case manager.
Technology could play a role in facilitating, as you’ve described, that nurse line. We can do that at scale and capacity, that constant nudge and connection with the patient, allowing them to know there are alternatives to some of the thinking that they have today.
If a hospital calls you wondering what they should do both short and longer term to get more engaged with their patients, what do you recommend?
Historically, providers haven’t had a need to engage the patient and what’s expected of them today. Because of the complexity of health systems and hospital systems, we’ve put an assessment process together. It’s very simple. This usually is our first recommendation. It’s a way to give them clarity as to where they’re heading, the assets they have, what is possible, and a road map to that end.
That strategy has worked well for us. No commitment. It’s just a matter of allowing them to see outside of healthcare what organizations have done to achieve either a world-class call center persona or an understanding of the communication technology that could play a role in their discrete objectives.
As a pharmacist, are you impressed with what Walgreens and CVS are doing to engage with their customers using technology?
Absolutely. Pharmacy has always had a need to engage the patient. Pharmacy by its very nature sees the patient more often, and they also have to do it not only from a healthcare perspective, but from a retail perspective.
Pharmacy and the strategies that the pharmacies are promoting today are great models for other provider systems to look at and engage against. I like what pharmacy is doing and I think we’ll see more of that from pharmacy on a go-forward basis.
We talked about the barricades providers seem to have put up to prevent people from reaching out to them. You could argue that hospitals do that physically as well, where parking is inconvenient and departments are hard to find. Could non-physical patient interaction allow them to work around the huge disadvantage of being located on campuses that are consumer-unfriendly?
We hear that consistently across the country as we’re out there with our offerings. The mere fact of trying to navigate the ever-changing environment of a health system has been a challenge for patients. To be honest, it’s also been a challenge for the patient to call into a health system and intelligently get navigated to where they need to be.
We did a roundtable with a group of patients at a health system. One of the comments that came from the patient was, "I would rather walk to this institution than call it." That was an indictment of the fact that there is a real immaturity around how best engage patients and the importance of that engagement.
The mindset needs to change in the provider market and I think it is. They are shifting to a very different approach. We see it also even in how they present themselves and how they organize themselves. Now we have VPs of engagement. We have VPs of consumerism. We have VPs of population health that now are charged with creating an experience and recognizing all of the touch points that a patient could have. Then obviously the need to translate that into how that will either generate revenue or reduce costs.
Do you have any final thoughts?
It’s a great time to be in healthcare. The provider community has never played a more important role and I don’t think they’ve ever taken on more responsibility. The need to address consumerism, the need to think through engagement and activation strategies, the notion of gravitating to unified communication environment s going to be critical for success and not only in the provider systems. Any healthcare organization that’s looking to manage a population needs to be thinking in those terms.