HIStalk Interviews Angie Franks, CEO, About
Angie Franks is CEO of About of St. Paul, MN.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
I’ve been in healthcare technology for 33 years, so this is definitely my passion. I have spent the last six years with About Healthcare, formerly Central Logic. We match the demand for acute and post-acute services with the optimal setting of care to get patients to the best place for the care that they need.
How do EHRs fall short in care coordination as health systems expand their range of services and geographic coverage?
EMRs do many things well. But when you move patients across settings of care, or need to optimize the resources inside of your health system by pulling together different silos and different systems, there’s a lot of data that’s not in the EMR that becomes important and instrumental for making decisions around hospital operations and then executing on that. The EMR is more suited for capturing specific data about a patient, ordering tests, getting those results back, and then billing the insurance company.
When you are making decisions about where a patient should go for the care that they need, how to get them there, choosing the best physician, and then executing on those logistics, you are pulling from data that is not in the EMR. You need information that is in a lot of systems. What we see is that hospitals have lots of silos. They don’t work well as a system of care when it comes to the operations and the logistics. That’s where we focus, which involves connecting to, talking with, and interoperating with the EMR as well as a bunch of other systems.
The data inside of an EMR is impressive, especially when you think about the clinical data and all the work that organizations like Epic can do with disease and tracking all of this clinical information. When you look at it from an operational lens and a growth or a strategy lens, none of these EMRs capture and track this data in a way that is useful to strategy and operations. As a result, many health system leaders don’t look at information even though it could change how they operate as a business. That’s a real benefit of looking at your operations differently than how you look at clinical pathways and the billing systems. You get data out of these tools that inform decisions that you make as a health system executive team that have a impact on your bottom line. Data is an important area of focus for us over the long term.
Bed management and bed visibility became important during the pandemic. Will that have a permanent impact on health system operations?
One of the things that the pandemic showed is how silos create bottlenecks in the organization that prevent patients from getting access to the care that they need. Getting somebody out of the acute bed and getting them to a post-acute setting by doing that electronically and in interoperability setting instead of creating a bottleneck for patients who were trying to get in the front door and into a bed of a particular health system. Those bottlenecks exist all over our care delivery system and impact access to care.
We have gained a lot more visibility into the bottlenecks. Health system EDs were overrun during the pandemic and they couldn’t service all those patients, but maybe a hospital down the street had capacity, but nobody knew about it. Even when we put the USS Comfort and 1,100 beds in the harbor inside of New York City, we placed only 107 patients there. It wasn’t because there wasn’t demand for all of the beds. It was because there wasn’t an ability to access them, to communicate and efficiently see what was available, and then match the patient and move them. That speaks to the need for more interoperability in our healthcare IT ecosystem. We have a long way to go.
How well are health systems operating transfer centers and how do they fit into their business strategy?
It is an important front door for health systems. Acute settings have three entry points — the emergency department, scheduled procedures such as the operating room, and patient transfers. Patient transfers are least known and understood.
A lot of health system leaders and executives may not have spent much time thinking about access points and access channels. They have business development teams and people who are responsible. It’s almost like a sales channel, but putting in place a conscious strategy and an infrastructure to capture more of the demand that is inside of the geographic service area that a health system serves and that net new patient demand for that hospital system. Those are lucrative patients, and every health system wants to capture more market share and then keep those patients inside of their network.
It is competitive for those patients. When you have an optimally functioning transfer center, you capture more of that demand. You impact your top line with revenue and your bottom line with improved margins. It is predictable. You can start achieving an ROI quickly if you invest the time. It’s not a technology implementation. Technology is important for enabling consistency and execution of a business process, but it is changing the way a health system operates and changing the way they utilize all of their resources for matching that patient demand with the right setting of care. If you just defer your front door to the ED, you pretty much get whoever walks in the door at whatever facility they show up at.
Do patients and physicians agree with a health system’s definition and approach to what they call “patient leakage?”
There will always be an amount of leakage. There are appropriate times where the patient is in a setting of care and they need to be somewhere else, which results in a transfer. They need a higher level of service or acuity. That could show up on a report as leakage. You had the patient, then you lost them. They leaked and they went to another system. Some amount of leakage will always happen and that is appropriate.
Hospital operators need to focus on when there is leakage that didn’t need to be. A patient comes into your emergency department, you offer those services, you have capacity, but it was hard to get that patient moved out of the ED into the right bed. It was easier for that ED doc to call their buddy, who is a cardiologist down the road, and move that patient into a different health system. That’s a costly leakage problem, and it happens every day.
It is costly to let patients just walk out the door instead of helping coordinate follow-on services or referrals to a specialist as they take that next step in their care journey. When you leave it up to the patient to just figure it out, it’s not a great experience for the patient, but it also results in a lot of leakage for the health system. It is an important metric to look at, calculate, and focus on, because it has implications to revenue and operationally and it can be a bad experience for the patients as well.
How are health systems changing their business model to address new competitors, telehealth, and new generations of consumers who would rather use urgent care?
What I see health systems doing over the last couple of years, and the pandemic was instrumental in this, is talking about operating as one system of care. How they use all of their capabilities to care for the patients in the community, and do that more efficiently and in a more streamlined manner. The conversations that are happening are really good.
I could give you many examples of what health systems are focusing on. We help them think about the acute and the post-acute patients. That is a small population of their overall patients and the communities that they serve, but hospitals and health systems have an enormous amount of competition for those healthy patients and the outpatient visits, whether it’s CVS, One Medical, or even Dollar General in some smaller communities. The margin erosion and the patient attrition for services that were maybe more easily captured in the past is an issue, and that revenue has to be replaced some other way.
Health systems are figuring out their population health strategies, figuring out their access channels how to deliver service not only to the patients, but to their referring community. Managing those referring networks as an important growth channel is a different way of thinking. I’m seeing more conversations about that today than I have in the past.
What will be important to the company in the next few years?
I see our company continuing to focus on solving this problem and helping health systems operate as one system of care, doing that by connecting their silos and disconnected systems into a streamlined process so that they can operate more effectively. It is a passion of mine. For everybody who works here at our company, this is what we jump out of bed to do every day. As I’ve gotten older, I see my parents needing to access healthcare services in different ways, and it sure gives you a lens on the importance and the mission orientation of the work that we do. We are going to continue focusing on this. It’s a big problem, and we are in the early innings of the game.
Do we have numbers on how often an ED clinician in one org calls up someone from another org to transfer them to that other org because it’s too difficult to find a bed in their own?
Finland requires Continuity of Care to include transportation, home care, etc to be coordinated through the EMR. Wondering if Epic is meeting that expectation. Not that it would work in the US with siloed organizations for post- hospital events.