For community hospital leaders, growing market share and improving patient retention remain top-of-mind going into 2017. Continued declines in admissions and reimbursements make it imperative that hospitals find ways to foster growth and hold the line on referral leakage. Increasingly, the most successful strategies will be informed by data and analytics — applied across the hospital operation. Consider the following five opportunities to leverage data and analytics to fuel growth and retention efforts.
- Understand your market. Any good growth strategy starts with understanding your market. Hospital CEOs should evaluate the market opportunity, including the volume of hospital cases (by diagnosis-related groups or DRGs) and referral patterns for both employed and community physicians. By applying analytics to claims data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), hospitals can learn when patients leave the system, where they go and even when they return. Armed with specific data on referral patterns, hospitals can engage physicians in a meaningful dialogue on service line capabilities to encourage more in-network referrals.
Another key data point that’s often overlooked is the volume of traffic the hospital directs to the network physician. This data helps physicians see the benefits of network participation — what’s in it for them — and can help strengthen their loyalty to the system.
- Ensure easy access. By analyzing referral patterns and the overall market, hospitals can pinpoint where leakage is occurring and take steps to address it. Often the first step is to make it as easy as possible for referrers — and patients — to schedule appointments. Integrated health records and scheduling systems can make it easier for physicians to book diagnostic and surgical procedures. Hospitals can also analyze geographic patterns and address gaps by recruiting specialty practices in target locations to ensure patients have convenient access to care.
- Overcome process barriers. Efficient workflows benefit patient satisfaction and the bottom line — especially in the emergency department and the operating room. Growth strategies should include a thorough analysis of process measures — like door-to-provider times, length of stay, room start times, turnaround times and more. These measures can shine light on process flaws that can cost the hospital money and market share.
Electronic health records can help hospitals monitor these process measures and improve their ability to move patients through more effectively and efficiently. A large percentage of the hospital’s revenues come from the ED and OR, so technology and process improvements in these areas are worthwhile investments. Once process issues are identified, hospitals can utilize LEAN practices to help overcome them.
Recently our consulting practice worked with a client who owned a community hospital in an urban market and decided to purchase a second community hospital in that same market. The first hospital had no interventional cardiology service line. The second hospital had a cardiac service line, but it was underutilized due to perceptions of poor quality. Our team worked with the second hospital to analyze and improve the ED workflow, tighten the referral process and make it easier to schedule appointments. They also evaluated the interventional cardiologists in the market and assessed where they were sending patients. They reached out to target providers and provided data on quality and process improvements. As a result, the hospital was able to recruit a new cardiology group and improve its overall reputation in the market.
- Champion patients with chronic conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of all adults in the U.S. — or about 117 million people — suffer from at least one chronic health condition. One in four adults deals with two or more chronic conditions every day. The rising incidence of chronic disease — and its toll on our nation’s economy and quality of life — pose both a challenge and an opportunity for community hospitals. These diseases are largely preventable — or at least manageable — with changes in behaviors and lifestyles, but such changes take time and require regular interaction with healthcare providers.
Community hospitals have a unique opportunity to analyze their patient populations and identify those patients at risk for chronic conditions. By educating and engaging these patients, hospitals can help improve their quality of life and create preference for a hospital when a patient needs hospital care.
Mobile health applications — including apps for managing chronic conditions — can help community hospitals engage patients and better monitor and manage conditions like diabetes or heart disease. Providers can send reminders about follow-up visits and preventive care and connect patients with other patients undergoing similar treatment to provide emotional support and improve adherence to treatment plans.
- Deploy “sticky tools” to reach consumers before they become patients. Community hospitals seeking to grow their market share and prevent patient leakage need to build regular communications with consumers in their footprint — with a goal of reaching consumers before they become patients. Facilities that lack the resources to carry out their own outbound digital marketing can take advantage of subscription services that leverage both customer relationship management (CRM) and data and analytics to target messaging for a specific community.
Through a flexible set of “sticky tools” — mobile apps, wellness dashboards, targeted email marketing, social media, personalized health content and integration with the hospital’s patient portal — marketing-as-a-service programs help keep patients engaged with the hospital and keep health and wellness top-of-mind. For today’s growing “mobile generation,” digital tools are essential to any growth and retention strategy.
By leveraging analytics to improve access, eliminate process barriers and engage consumers, community hospitals can help stem the tide of referral leakage and set a course for steady growth. That means better care coordination and quality for patients — and a healthier financial outlook for hospitals.
The author of this article, Bill Anderson, has been the chief executive officer at MEDHOST since August 2012 and chairman since June 2008. Previously, he was a consultant to the company from June 2009 to August 2012.
- Chronic Disease Overview, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/overview/