Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, is the only hospital in the state of Nebraska exclusively dedicated to pediatric care, serving a five-state region. In 2022, it nearly doubled its capacity with the opening of the Hubbard Center for Children, adding 100 beds for a total of 243 beds.
That move expanded surgical suites, the neonatal intensive care unit, the pediatric ICU, the hematology/oncology floor and the cardiac care center. The new facility also offers patient families a variety of elevated amenities, including a larger cafeteria space, family waiting area, an expanded gift shop and additional space for visitor parking.
“With the expansion came a host of new challenges, including how to ensure families could easily find their way from one location to another on our campus,” said Jerry Vuchak, executive vice president and chief information and innovation officer. “Moreover, children with chronic or complex health conditions have needs that go beyond in-person visits or care.
“Managing these conditions can be challenging,” he continued. “And given the wide geographic area we serve, each in-person visit can require hours of travel, depending on where a patient lives. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic influenced patient and family member interaction, rapidly accelerating the need for more virtual encounters while supplying the same high-quality and safe care along with an exceptional experience.”
Children’s Hospital & Medical Center needed a way to engage patients and families virtually with a resource that would allow them to more promptly get the health answers they need when questions or complications arise, he added. It also needed to deepen connections with their child’s care team by enabling them to correspond remotely on a regular basis, ideally leading to better outcomes and experiences.
“We wanted to tie together all of our digital services for patients and families into a single umbrella app to create a more integrated care experience,” Vuchak explained. “Previously, parents had to log on to numerous apps or websites to find the information they were looking for, which creates a confusing and inconsistent experience.
“One tip we’d offer in developing your health system’s digital strategy is to look for ways to reduce stress in the patient and family experience.”
Jerry Vuchak, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center
“Finding a provider in our network who is skilled in treating a particular condition shouldn’t be difficult,” he continued. “Neither should scheduling an appointment, asking a question of a nurse, making a telehealth appointment or paying a medical bill. And families shouldn’t have to download one mobile app for finding their way around our facilities and another to access their medical records.”
Innovation is one of the core values at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, and staff believed they could facilitate better care experiences by connecting all of their consumer-facing digital elements into a single mobile platform.
“We worked with a vendor to determine our short-term and long-term goals for a unified digital offering,” Vuchak said. “We also sought feedback from our patient and family advisory councils to ascertain what they valued the most in a digital sense.
“Then we began to design a platform that could not only provide a more tightly integrated care experience for patients and families, but also reduce the administrative load for our team,” he noted. “In an era when teams increasingly suffer from burnout, finding ways to decrease the administrative burdens of care is critical to protecting employee satisfaction.”
It also helps ensure providers are able to focus their attention where it is needed most: serving the patients and families with excellence and compassion, he added.
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
Children’s Hospital & Medical Center brought its new Children’s GO wayfinding app and Children’s Connect app, Children’s branding of Epic’s MyChart, together under a single digital platform, working with Gozio Health.
“In doing so, we expanded our digital functionality for patients and families and met them where they want to engage with us,” Vuchak stated. “Now, parents can use the app to navigate from their home to the point of care, remember their parking space, locate dining services on-site, find the best provider to meet their child’s needs and schedule appointments online, including virtual visits.
“When questions arise in or out of the clinical setting, they can message their child’s care team through the digital platform and receive an answer in a timely manner,” he continued. “They can also complete paperwork, access medical records and pay their bill from a single, convenient location.”
The work the provider organization did with Gozio Health in combining these digital elements into a single platform establishes the foundation for a comprehensive digital front door strategy.
“It enables us to design digital strategies that resonate with families,” Vuchak explained. “It also provides the opportunity to reimagine the digital experiences we offer. For instance, one of our future plans is to add a child-friendly bear statue walking tour within the app.
“We’ll also incorporate services such as e-check-in capabilities to make the care experience more convenient for families while reducing the number of administrative touches per patient by staff,” he continued. “Urgent care on-demand is also on our horizon.”
Since integrating the digital apps into a single digital platform, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center has increased digital engagement with patients and their families.
“This not only boosts satisfaction, but also reduces non-clinical demands on our staff,” Vuchak reported. “Before working with Gozio Health, we had already achieved a 65% engagement rate through the patient portal, meaning that of all the patient families that we offered the portal technology to, 65% of them activated their account and were using it.
“In the short time we have been using the Children’s GO platform, we have seen a 5% increase in engagement to 70%,” he continued. “When you consider the national average for engagement with a patient portal is 40%, we have achieved a great outcome here.”
Additionally, in the first month since marketing this technology to consumers, the organization has had 1,078 downloads, 4,124 sessions related to care engagement, and 752 navigation-related sessions. In the second month, it is on pace to at least double those numbers.
“Given that, according to an IQVIA report, 83% of the more than 350,000 health-related mobile apps on the market get downloaded fewer than 5,000 times – a sign of their lack of perceived value to consumers – we believe our numbers indicate the perceived value of our digital offerings to those we serve as we anticipate eclipsing those benchmarks in short order,” Vuchak said.
“We will continue to track mobile downloads and use of the app to gauge our effectiveness and the appeal of our digital offerings over time,” he added.
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
“One tip we’d offer in developing your health system’s digital strategy is to look for ways to reduce stress in the patient and family experience,” Vuchak advised. “At Children’s, we’ve concentrated on strengthening patient-flow capabilities within the app to make it easier for patients and families to navigate our campus, indoors and outdoors, and guide them from location to location in the order needed.
“We make it easy for patient families to save their parking spot in the app and find amenities when they are onsite, and we incorporate all of the digital features they might need before or after their stay onto a single platform,” he continued. “Each of these efforts create a digital experience that families appreciate – and this promotes continued engagement and satisfaction.”
Vuchak also recommends designing one’s digital program with staff as well as patients in mind.
“Our people power our mission and make Children’s our region’s leader for pediatric specialty care, hospital care and primary care,” he said. “Our digital resources should support their ability to provide exceptional care by easing the administrative load for clinicians and staff.
“That can be achieved by enabling patients’ families to schedule appointments online, for example,” he continued. “That’s where the industry is headed: making digital apps useful for consumers and team members alike.”
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