Effective Engagement through Technology

David Higginson, EVP, CAO & CIO, Phoenix Children's Hospital
David Higginson, EVP, CAO & CIO, Phoenix Children's Hospital

David Higginson, EVP, CAO & CIO, Phoenix Children's Hospital

The concept of patient portals has been a hot topic in the healthcare industry over the past decade. Previously, portals involved patients logging into a proprietary app or a hospital-branded website. Preferences then shifted toward text messaging as a better means of engaging patients and keeping them up-to-date with their care delivery. For instance, alerting someone of a normal lab test result, or prompting them to book a wellness visit, can drastically improve the hospital-patient interaction and satisfaction with the organization. In addition to texting reminders, the industry has been searching for a consistent patient-engagement platform that interacts with the patient before, during, and after his or her visit to provide both clinical and financial updates.

A great example of this next level text-message interaction is the ability to receive and respond to earlier appointment options for patients facing a long wait. Phoenix Children’s developed a system to continually scan for open appointment opportunities and text patients those earlier options. If one is a good fit, the patient responds to the text message and the appointment is automatically rebooked with no human interaction needed. This not only provides the patient with an earlier appointment, it fills gaps in a fragmented clinic schedule allowing the hospital to see and treat additional patients.

  Patients have never really taken to downloading and logging into a hospital-centric healthcare portals, they are demanding real-time notifications with important information, and the ability to consume their data in ways they select   

Patients are also beginning to express a preference for organizations who enable their information to be consumed by FIHR-enabled applications such as Apple Health. These allow patients to make independent choices on how they manage and receive their health information, versus forcing patients to use a different portal for each of their healthcare providers. Making patients use hospital-selected apps will soon end once competitive and regulatory pressures require healthcare organizations to release information to whatever FIHR-enabled app the patient selects.

Staying Connected During a Visit

Today, people watch less television and often use tablets and phones for entertainment, education and social media. This is no different during a hospital stay. Recognizing this trend, hospitals are beginning to provide iPads to their patients. At Phoenix Children’s Hospital, we have made this possible with the help of a generous grant from the Cox Family Foundation. The in-room patient iPad automatically transforms each time a new patient is admitted to the room to display age-appropriate apps and educational material fitting his or her language preference. Patients (and families) can use the iPad to connect to their social media accounts with confidence the devices will erase and clear private history upon their discharge from the hospital. Using patented device management automation invented at Phoenix Children’s, staff do not have the chore of checking iPads in and out for each stay and families have the convenience to use a dedicated iPad in their room for the entire stay.

This private, personalized device concept has become so popular over the last two years at Phoenix Children’s we deployed over 400 iPads in our patient rooms. Patient parents love that only approved content is available to their child, and patients love the freedom to choose their own entertainment and education using a modern-day device. The iPads bring a much-welcomed distraction to some of the monotony a hospital room can bring.

Strong Working Principles

As a CIO, interaction with end users is crucial. Instead of sitting in meeting after meeting, it is important to communicate with the people impacted by our solutions. I spend many hours each week interacting with doctors, patients, their families, and the hospital staff, to understand their challenges and brainstorm ways to improve their healthcare experience. While performing administrative tasks is important, human interaction helps pinpoint factors we may otherwise overlook. Likewise, it is important to understand the nuances of each staff member’s job function so they have tools that are hyper-tuned to the tasks they have to perform—providing assistance rather than annoyance.

Over the years, the role of hospital CIOs has greatly evolved. Previously the role demanded that we build and maintain technical infrastructure, and manage large system selections, implementations and budgets. In today’s world, it is imperative CIOs ensure they understand the organization’s core clinical, business objectives and the technology supporting those goals, rather than just buying and implementing the latest and greatest technical solutions vendors present.

Achieving Value with Clinical Integration

While I have 25 years’ experience in the technology industry, I am a CIO who first trained as an accountant and I learned about technology as a hobby and on the job. This background makes me very aware of a hospital CIO’s responsibility to bridge technology and its functions to an industry inherently based on human interactions. There is an important balance between using technology to assist an expert doing their job, and technology that dictates how work is done. As healthcare technologists, we must continue to refine our skills to be more precise and adapt technology to what healthcare providers and patients need—not what we think they should use. The CIO has a critical role gluing together the worlds of healthcare and information technology, and we should always remember our primary role is a facilitator and educator, rather than an engineer or programmer.

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