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Erlanger Health is focused on creating multiple access points
While most entrepreneurs want to be the one to discover the next Amazon or Twitter, oftentimes major technological shifts are coming from the big companies, the players that have been on the scene for years, if not decades. Those companies have survived because they know how to pivot. They're the ones who either seed new ideas or acquire them and distribute them.
In this column, we talk to those companies and their innovators who are preparing them for what's coming.
Meet Matt Gibson, who in September 2017 took on the role of Chief Strategy Officer at Erlanger Health System, an academic medical center and the country’s 10th largest public hospital system. Matt is the first CSO since the company was founded in 1889. Since he joined in September 2017, Erlanger has been on a tear building out new access points and launching a startup accelerator.
The company recently announced that it’s opening up three new urgent care clinics. Last year, it launched Erlanger On-Demand to provide 24-7 virtual visits. During these virtual visits, physicians can diagnose, treat and prescribe medication for low-acuity needs, such as respiratory and eye infections or sore throats and seasonal allergies or a rash. Each visit is $49. In late 2018, Erlanger launched an accelerator in partnership with insurance provider Unum and The Company Lab, a non-profit startup accelerator supporting entrepreneurship in southeast Tennessee.
I spoke with Matt about how he’s driving innovation at Erlanger and his main priorities. Here’s our interview and some takeaways.
- Creating multiple access points to Erlanger's doctors is a priority
- As part of its "access" goals, Erlanger is opening up new urgent care centers
- Erlanger also launched Erlanger OnDemand for low-acuity needs at $49 per service
- To ensure patients get their records anytime, Erlanger is using Epic's MyChartCentral with Apple Health.
- Erlanger recently launched the first healthcare accelerator in Tennessee
Editor's note: Matt will join us at our Reinventing the doctor's event on Sept. 12 at UCSF. Register early! Plus Vator, HP and UCSF's salon - "Future of Clinics" is on June 27. Need relationships to grow your digital health startup? Register and network with fast-growing startups and established healthcare companies, such as HP, Dignity Health, Sutter Health, One Medical, Crossover Health and more.
Bambi: You are the company's first CSO and are charged with continuing a culture of growth. What are your main "growth" priorities?
Matt: Our priorities are in a couple primary areas. Primarily, we want to facilitate greater access. We want to make it more convenient to access all types of care, from basic care to complex tertiary kidney transplants. This means more ambulatory access points and making it easier to navigate our campuses. This also means making it easier to navigate online. We’ve partnered with Epic and have a partnership with Apple. We have a virtual primary care product. We have online scheduling. We want all of these Erlanger connection points to seamlessly work together to create greater and easier access.
Bambi: Elaborate more about why you’re innovating around “access.” And can you quantify what the access challenges have been that you’re trying to improve (e.g. trying to get more access to specialty providers or access to same-day appointments, etc.)
Matt: For primary care, we’re working toward same-day access. We have a pretty comprehensive access strategy. We have a family practice and internal medicine residency program so we seek to retain our own physicians. Furthermore, we’re opening up new urgent care centers. We just launched Erlanger OnDemand, our virtual primary care program. It costs $49 per visit and offers services for low-acuity needs. The physicians delivering this service are a combination of staffed physicians at Erlanger and doctors outside our network.
Bambi: How’s the virtual center working? Is it going as planned and what are you learning?
Matt: By its nature the virtual program involves a lower volume of visits. The primary care physician is the backbone of our access program. So the virtual program is a complementary offering. It’s used when urgent care isn’t open and is slightly utilized more by women. It’s a slower growing channel of delivery.
Bambi: What about your urgent care centers. Why did you open them?
Matt: We have seven hospitals and we have $1.1 billion in annual net revenue. We historically didn’t have these lower-acuity access channels. But we wanted a way for consumers to get access conveniently. Consumers don’t want to wait to get an appointment.
Bambi: What’s driving your push to focus on access?
Matt: Higher quality care is delivered via primary care providers who are PCMH certified. And all our primary care physicians are PCMH (Patient-Centered Medical Home) certified. [PCMH is a model of care that puts patients at the center] Data bears out across generations - younger population and old - that people are using lower-acuity care in a very transactional manner. [In other words, there’s no relationship there]. And many of these entities are not connected therefore that continuity of care is not there. By providing a diverse set of low acuity access points, we can ensure higher quality care by making available and connecting our primary care physicians to these patients. About half of the patients using urgent care centers and a much higher number for virtual care do not have a primary care physician.
Bambi: You’re adding three more urgent care centers to your existing one and adding four more later this year. Are you building them out or acquiring independent centers?
Matt: We’re building the centers. We looked at independent ones. It is important to us to have them aligned with our vision and operate similar to our existing one. We’re also adding four more later this calendar year.
Bambi: How are you modernizing your clinics?
Matt: We’re providing a broad communications experience with online scheduling, text reminders, MyChart access, integration with the Apple Health app, etc…Our overarching objective is to allow our patients to choose how they want to communicate with Erlanger, on their time.
Bambi: How have you integrated with Apple? How is that working?
Matt: When we initiated our integration with the Apple Health app 88 health systems nationally had partnered with Apple in this regard. We’re integrating the Epic’s free MyChartCentral [a web portal for consumers to access their medical information in an easier to read format] with the Apple Health app. We’re preparing for the future so people can have their information wherever they go.
Bambi: Besides 10k Baby Boomers retiring daily; tech-savvy millennials making up 75 percent of the workforce in 2025 and chronic conditions on the rise, what are the big picture trends you’re seeing that’s driving change?
Matt: Consumer demand. More than ever before, patients in our industry are savvy and demanding greater access. They want shorter wait times and more control of their scheduling and records and they want that accessible online. They also want a seamless billing experience.
Bambi: CVS and Walgreens are starting to expand to offer similar health services. How do you view them as they enter your space?
Matt: We can partner with them. Apple is an example. We have had discussions with other tech companies about collaborating to do meaningful things. Sizeable, regional health systems traditionally have a strong, local brand. The large retailers and other tech companies have a national brand. So we should leverage both.
Bambi: What’s behind the trend of not having a primary care physician?
Matt: Mobility of the population. In the last few decades, we’ve seen the number of times people change jobs and relocate increase significantly. Being mobile makes it harder to reinitiate and maintain that primary care physician relationship. And we’re also a society that expects “on-demand” services from our banking to airline services; to every service we interface with. So unfortunately more and more members of our society doesn’t have the patience to maintain the relationship. They just want a transactional relationship. And we want to build their awareness of the importance of a relationship with a primary care doctor.
Bambi: If society is moving in this direction, is this doable?
Matt: It is a challenge. We have a much better chance if at least we offer the full spectrum of access capabilities and at least if we ask that question. There will be a cohort of the population that will refuse and not have the motivation. But at least we’re in the position to educate them on the importance of a primary care physician relationship.
Bambi: Tell us about the accelerator you just launched.
Matt: We founded this accelerator with Unum and CoLab - a professional accelerator. This is the first healthcare accelerator in Tennessee. It’s another pipeline for us to partner with startups though we have other channels and ways to work with the entrepreneurial community. With Unum being a health plan and us being a delivery system, we get to see a lot of different types of innovations that can work with both providers and payers.
Bambi: Tell us how you selected your top eight that recently entered the program.
Matt: We assess the maturity of their business model. We want to understand and believe in the vision of their founders. We want to see some strategic fit and how it can be applied to our own health system and impact our operations today and then can grow and be scaled from there.
Bambi: Any final thoughts?
Matt: Erlanger Health System is serving a much greater region than it did in prior decades. We’re in an exciting growth phase. It’s important for our long-term sustainability to innovate. Education has historically been a big part of our fabric and advancing innovation fits into what we’re trying to do. We want to attract the best talent to the Erlanger Health System and to the University of Tennessee College of Medicine.
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