CIO Spotlight: Saint Luke’s Debe Gash reveals how the right mobile presence builds loyalty and drives engagement

Under the leadership of Debe Gash, mobile adoption is up 46% since Saint Luke's Health System launched a new app consolidating all its mobile offerings.

Saint Luke’s Health System has a lot of mobile apps. A few too many, as it turned out.

There’s a telehealth app called Saint Luke’s 24/7 that allows patients to connect with a physician from their smartphone anytime, anywhere. Then there’s the patient portal, operated through Epic’s MyChart, where users can access test results, manage appointments and message their physician. Plus there's the mobile-friendly website that provides information about each of the system's 10 campuses.

MySaintLuke's apIn October, the Kansas City, Missouri-based health system rolled all those apps into one mobile offering called mySaintLuke’s, which integrates each of its mobile services onto a single user-friendly platform available through the iTunes and Google Play stores.

Since its launch in October, the app has been downloaded 1,600 times, and mobile adoption among patients is up more than 46%. Patient portal usage saw an initial 30% bump in the week after publishing the app, and that's continued to increase in each subsequent month. For Debe Gash, the system’s vice president and chief information officer, the new app aligns with the organization’s broader effort to build loyalty by putting mobile resources into the hands of its patients, extend the system’s reach beyond its existing population and engage users on a device that rarely leaves their side.

“More people have cell phones than computers,” she says. “A cell phone is a pretty powerful tool. Why not leverage that since it’s with the individual wherever they go?”

In a conversation with FierceHealthcare, Gash explained how the new app aligns with the organization’s overall strategy and how the app will provide operational efficiencies across the health system.

FierceHealthcare: Why did you decide to launch the mySaintLuke's app? Why was there a need for this?

Debe Gash: We did this to really improve our mobile presence in our market, and to provide a consolidated solution to promote our digital health capabilities. We're striving to improve access to care and looking for opportunities to provide care at a lower price point, and we believe digital health and mobile health is certainly a contributor to that.

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The other reason was to try and consolidate our mobile presence. We’ve been deploying various digital health capabilities over the last few years, but they were discrete implementations. And we had some feedback from customers telling us there were an awful lot of applications.

FH: Was it difficult to bring all those disparate systems and applications together on one platform? How did you go about doing that?

DG: I think if we had tried to do it ourselves it would have been difficult because we just don’t have that skill set. But we partnered with VenueNext to bring that capability to the table. I was very pleased with their understanding of how to do those integrations despite the fact that they hadn’t worked in healthcare before.

It took them probably five months to complete the first phase of our deployment, which was taking their platform and connecting our Epic MyChart app, St. Luke’s 24/7 and our website.

FH: How do you plan to measure the impact of this rollout? What’s your end goal for the new app?

DG: We’re measuring adoption and utilization of the application. We can track the number of times people are accessing the functions of the patient portal, and we can track the number of times people are doing a virtual visit. And then from the iOS and the Google Play store, we can track downloads, pages viewed and opt-in rates for location services.

We also introduced an in-building way-finding solution. We’re still trying to work through the reporting and analytics on that piece, but we’ll certainly want to see how many of the people that arrive in our building are using that capability.

FH: What benefits does the hospital see from an uptick in patient portal usage?

Saint Luke's Health System - Kansas City
Saint Luke's Health System

DG: There are operational efficiencies associated with it. Test results delivery is electronic, so you don’t have to mail them out. Patients can view them online and see them in a more timely fashion.

There’s also a feature that allows you to schedule appointments online. You don’t have to call to book an appointment. The consumer can do it 24/7—they don’t have to wait until there are office hours to schedule. That’s efficient for us because it doesn’t require a resource to do that.

It also has a messaging feature. If you have a question, you can message the provider and get a response back, so you’re not playing phone tag.

We tracked the transactional effect of messaging when we deployed this. Using typical telephone interactions, it was usually three or four contacts before you closed that communication loop. With messaging, it’s two. A patient sends a message and a provider responds. It’s more efficient and requires fewer resources to manage that.

Beyond that, the mobile application is something that I think will help to build loyalty with our consumer base. One of the more commonly used features of the app is, if you need to find a doctor, you can search for a provider and it will pull up information about that physician, give you perception rankings from other consumers and allow you to book an appointment online. The addresses are in Google maps, so you click on it and it will navigate you to the right place.

Our expectation is that this will build loyalty and make us the preferred provider for patients. If you’re a visiting family member, you can download this app and it provides you all the information you need to know. It’s a nice resource for anyone who is interacting with the system, whether it’s on behalf of a patient or themselves.

FH: How does this fit within the system’s broader mobile strategy?

DG: We believe that we’re going to be doing more value-based care delivery, and patient engagement is critical to the success of those types of reimbursement paradigms. It’s really a partnership between the provider and patient to drive health outcomes.

We feel like this is a foundational piece of that. If we can leverage this using home monitoring and wearables as the method of interfacing with that patient, without needing a computer, we think that’s very powerful and enables our success around population health.

There are a lot of solutions integrating with wearables and patient monitoring devices. When you start looking at caring for specific populations—diabetic patients, heart failure patients, COPD patients—you can interact with them and make sure they are taking their medication or controlling their blood sugar and they aren’t gaining weight on a daily and weekly basis. If you’re able to intervene, you can keep them healthy and lower the cost of care.

FH: What advice do you have for other health systems that are thinking about their mobile strategy or looking for new ways to integrate mobile tools?

DG: Engaging the marketing department with any initiative, as well as your clinical partners, is important. At the end of the day you have to promote it and your providers need to encourage adoption, but we’re also looking outside of our existing patient base and trying to get adoption among people that have never been to our organization. That’s where your marketing department needs to be engaged.