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HIStalk Interviews Lisa Esch, SVP, NTT Data

January 10, 2022 Interviews No Comments

Lisa Esch is SVP/provider industry solutions leader of NTT Data of Tokyo, Japan.


Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’ve been with the company for a little over a year. I get to work with our clients and our customers as we tackle the challenges of healthcare and how IT supports that with services and technology. I’ve always been in healthcare. I started out as a clinician. I’m a dietitian by training and I worked for non-profit and for-profit health systems. I worked in the space around healthcare systems for many years, then in startups as well as large IT global systems integrators.

How will health systems use technology differently as they grow in size and geographic scope?

We’re seeing a lot of the innovation come out of the nimble, small companies, the ideas that can be executed and how we problem solve. There’s a balance between the large and the small, what the large can accomplish at scale versus what the small can do in driving innovation. There’s this blending of both that we need in the marketplace to drive the change that’s happening and to keep the patient at the center of what we’re trying to accomplish in this healthcare transformation, this digitization of healthcare.

Are health systems more consistently using their corporate approach and brand so that patients feel known at any of the health system’s venues?

Having the health system know them is a conversation that we are having with many of our customers. There’s this balance between “creepy know” that you get from commercial businesses that we interact with online versus knowing you so we can improve outcomes, engagement, and personalization.

You shouldn’t have to repeat things in your healthcare experience. You shouldn’t have to have nine portals. Even though you’re accessing in multiple places, it’s a single system, so personalization needs to come together. There’s a lot of fear around information and being proactive because of some of the rules and laws we have about how you communicate with patients, and the difference between marketing versus education and those types of things. But convergence is coming together with commercial industry and healthcare, and we have to figure a good way to make that happen.

What are health systems considering when developing their digital health strategy?

A lot of it involves how to humanize the digital experience. How we bring in information and data around people that isn’t traditionally healthcare that can help us drive engagement, make it more personal, make it a better experience, and make it a better outcome for the clinician as well as the patient. We are having conversations around that. We are building into our digital accelerator things that are AI driven, next best actions, personas, and different things that help with that digital experience and make it more personal.

Some organizations are more ready to have those conversations than others. Some react with, “Amazon knows more about you and Google knows more about you than you know yourself.” That’s not what we’re trying to get to, but how do we leverage the good that’s coming out of those things to bring together the clunkiness that we have in healthcare today? Imagine having a unified patient experience for someone so that an organization’s brand can stay connected to a patient as they traverse this healthcare delivery system where more is happening outside the four walls of the healthcare system than inside. There’s risk with brand and with connection. Patients have a lot of choice.

Is anyone looking far enough down the road to connect a variety of services and tools together to create an Amazon-like experience?

We are working on that strategy now. We’re putting together a marketplace where we can make it easy for organizations to have a problem to solve. We have partners that are pre-built or pre-vetted to make that process easier. We also have the capability of the technologies that can bring those things together, to make them all work together and better to get more out of them. We’re tackling this with our customers right now. 

A lot of decisions were made a couple years ago early on in the pandemic in buying technology. I need this and I need that. Now organizations are sometimes stuck with a bag of rocks. We are beefing up our healthcare consulting chops and advising organizations on, maybe we pull the plug on this. Let’s have a strategy here, and put more of a strategy around this transformation versus having the world put all this pressure on organization and people just buy things because they need something. 

Who is in the best position among healthcare players in getting the consumer’s attention as an information source or service choice?

The organizations that create this unified personal experience are further ahead. What that unified experience is is key. When I talk about a unified experience, I’m not talking about a single EMR across an enterprise. It’s much more than that. Patients become engaged in many more ways than just that their portal, which they don’t use except when they need to pay their bills. There’s this much more enriching experience, and patients can sometimes get that more easily from outside their healthcare system in other industries. Those other industries are obviously looking at healthcare.

The term “provider” is being redefined. There’s lots of ways healthcare is being provided lately. So it’s going to require partnering with people that you haven’t thought about and doing things in new ways. We’re tackling hospital at home, health at home, and it’s really complex. It seems like it shouldn’t be that hard, but we know that it is. That’s going to require a new way of thinking about delivering healthcare, new partners, and non-traditional things to move to that space. The ones that will win are going to be driven by experience and those that will invest in that unified personal human experience. Health and wellbeing is going to be delivered outside of just healthcare systems.

Is it hard to segment the wide variety of patients that a health system would serve, such as by preferred communication channel or the desired depth of the ongoing relationship?

That ties to a healthcare persona. It really is an engagement persona — how frequently they access and what kind of communication. It still is an omni-channel strategy. Some people still want to be communicated with or educated on paper. Some people want pure digital. The omni-channel experience is key, but the persona is a big part of it. We’ve tackled a lot of what we do with, “Here’s the technology. Just plug everybody into it.” Beyond that, we have a lot of research around engagement that can be driven digitally. We probably need to look outside of healthcare a little bit more to bring those capabilities in, to drive that and have it become part of our digital strategy as we transform the healthcare system.

Will we have enough providers in the right locations to support the business models involved in offering services in new ways?

Telehealth fit a need. A lot of clinicians move to it that because, wherever they were in their careers or whatever they were doing, it worked for them. Telehealth is here to stay and we are going to have that capability. Health systems need to balance out how they will deliver it because telehealth is still going to drive a different demographic, and when you look at the lifetime value of a patient, that experience will be important as people move and age through the healthcare system.

The partners you have how telehealth is delivered needs to ensure availability, but a lot of the telehealth that was stood up was disconnected from the health system and from the records. It was disconnected for the patient. They got what they needed in that moment, but it wasn’t part of a connected healthcare journey or their healthcare experience. That’s the part that’s a little messy still, and we’re working on determining the best next going-forward strategy and how we  balance that out.

Banks deployed ATMs so they could get rid of tellers, but also addressed an unmet need of customers who ended up rarely needing to interact with a bank employee anyway. How will the rollout of technologies such as chat bots benefit patients rather than just limiting their access to clinicians?

When AI and chat reduce access, there are probably unintended consequences that aren’t so positive. It’s finding the right place to leverage that and to have it improve and enhance the experience and not be a way to block the experience. There are times where certain personas will engage with that and others won’t. That’s part of the strategy with AI —  how do you find those who will engage with that and those who will not?

An example where it worked great was putting together a SOAP note prior to a visit by having the patient chat with AI before they saw the physician. They found that patients shared more with this bot than with a human being, so they got a more robust background prior to that visit. That’s really cool technology. Sometimes AI can be a better experience than the human one, while at other times, it’s not. We  have to sort all that out as we build this strategy. There will be a place for it, and there will be a place where it’s not helpful.

Where do you see digital health and the company advancing in the next few years?

The digital health innovation that we’re going to see over the next two to three years will be similar to what we’re seeing now. The ideas, the startups being disruptive, and then elements of those things moving into mainstream. I’m also seeing the big transformations that have to happen in healthcare, the digital ecosystem and how we deliver healthcare, as that is also being transformed. We’re going to see AI and robotic process automation. We’re going to see all these small things find the right place in the bigger picture that will drive the transformation. We are excited about is helping with the roadmap, the strategy around that, and helping to find those partners and put those things together that are unique to a healthcare system.

It will be exciting to see what that transformation will going to be. We will see this transformation of, who and what is a provider? How is healthcare provided in the community? With COVID, everyone in the workplace is in healthcare. An employer is responsible for understanding and keeping their patients safe and healthy, so this definition of health and wellbeing is also being redefined and identifying who is responsible for that in our communities. This conversation is going much more broader than just healthcare providers. We’re in the middle of all of that, trying to bring that together and help communities deliver.

Digital healthcare and the digital ecosystem are patient driven. There’s a consumer aspect to it, there’s a technical aspect to it, it is driven by innovation, and it is driven by tradition. These things are coming together in a new way than we’ve seen before. It requires all of those different points of view to move forward, and that’s what I’m so excited about.

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