UCSF partners with Dignity Health on digital platform designed for frictionless patient engagement

Two Northern California health systems are joining forces to leverage a new digital platform that makes scheduling a doctor’s appointment just as simple as making a dinner reservation. 

In a partnership announced this week, the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Health is joining a cloud-based technology platform built by Dignity Health to streamline the way patients interact with the two health systems. The platform, built in-house and refined by Dignity’s team of software engineers over the last two years, is designed to “remove the friction points” where patients interact with the provider, according to Shez Partovi, M.D., the chief digital officer at Dignity Health.

That could be as simple as guiding visitors to the hospital cafeteria or as complex as using analytics to connect with asthma patients before they land in the emergency room.

“In any care journey there are many places where it’s just so full of friction, it’s almost as if the system is fighting against helping you go through it, even unintentionally,” Partovi told FierceHealthcare. “We’re simply trying to eliminate [those places].”

To do that, Dignity Health took their lead from Fortune 500 technology companies that prioritize consumer engagement. Just like the app OpenTable provides a seamless way to make a dinner reservation at a local restaurant, Dignity Health’s “My Care” app allows patients to book and confirm the appointment. And just like Google Maps will get you to the restaurant, the app gives users turn-by-turn directions to any location in the health system.

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While Dignity has been ironing out its new approach for the last two years, its new partnership gives UCSF access to the platform’s analytics through a “digital front door,” according to Partovi. From there, UCSF is developing a road map that starts by redesigning the user experience on its mobile sites.  

Partovi said UCSF is compensating Dignity for use of the platform but declined to provide specific financials tied to the agreement, citing a nondisclosure agreement.

Dignity began with similar changes, using the platform to track user activity to direct them to an orthopedic service if they are looking for information about knee surgeries, and even putting tailored content in front of them based on their browsing habits.

Partovi says the approach is less about marketing and more about improving the system's interaction with consumers.

“Amazon does it and Microsoft does it,” he said. “What is different is we’re using a healthcare lens and stitching it to healthcare touchpoints.”

Building on clinical apps

While both Dignity and UCSF are focused on improving the patient experience, Dignity’s platform offers an opportunity to use digital tools to improve clinical care.

Using digitally connected inhalers provided to more than 500 children with asthma, Dignity’s analytics platform was able to determine when patients were at high risk for an emergency room visit based on their frequency of rescue breaths.

By pre-emptively calling parents and directing them to an ambulatory care facility, Dignity reduced hospitalizations by 79% and reduced the number of inpatient days related to an asthma event by 82%. Meanwhile, asthma-related office visits increased by 41%, according to research published last year in the European Respiratory Journal.

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Partovi said Dignity’s in-house analytics were able to quickly enroll pediatric patients in the program and then alert a member of the care team by analyzing data sent from the connected inhaler.  

“This is the heart of CMS’ triple aim,” he said. “Reducing costs and improving quality.”  

Partovi said the health system remains focused on ensuring that patient interactions are an “intensely positive and personalized digital experience.” Dignity’s next initiative is focused on overhauling the way patients check in for an appointment and ultimately doing away with the notorious clipboard of patient forms.

Instead, Partovi envisions a scenario that mirrors checking in for a flight, where all the necessary information is already in the system, and patients can even share medical information through Apple’s Health Records app.

“It’s focusing on that first point of contact in the clinic and hospital and transforming that experience to match what you and I have come to expect out of the airline industry,” he said.