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Refining Online Provider Search Optimizes Provider, Patient Engagement

CHRISTUS Health said scrubbing its online provider search systems, and giving clinicians the option to take part, will be key to creating a better patient experience.

Imagine the patient experience nightmare that would occur if a patient showed up to an appointment at the wrong address because it was listed incorrectly online. That shouldn’t be a problem at CHRISTUS Health, a Texas-based health system revamping its online provider search and patient access tools.

Online provider search may seem like a standard part of the consumer experience. Most healthcare organizations, and even payers, list contact and practice information for their providers so that patients can “shop” around for care.

For CHRISTUS, provider search was an important development on its path toward healthcare consumerism, according to Sam Bagchi, MD, the health system’s executive vice president and chief clinical officer.

“In 2020, CHRISTUS reformatted and reimagined our strategic plan and really pivoted to a much larger focus on how consumers and patients and community members shop for healthcare or look for healthcare solutions,” Bagchi told PatientEngagementHIT in an interview. “We looked in the mirror, and we realized that we weren't as consumer-friendly as we could be. And that starts with our patient experience.”

And while delivering that good patient experience requires a concerted effort inside the four walls of the hospital and clinic—high clinical quality, good interactions with clinicians and office staff, and a positive financial experience—Bagchi and team acknowledged that the patient experience actually starts long before the patient sets foot in a facility.

“We also realize that some of the people that would be looking for us in digital platforms—wow, we weren't as easy to find,” he said. “We've relied on primary care referrals and word-of-mouth discussions and communities and our community reputation to drive our business in the past. As we look forward, we know we've got to really think bigger about how we engage with patients.”

That led CHRISTUS to take a second look at its online provider search functionalities. A patient might be looking for a doctor to look at her shoulder pain, but making sure she finds the right orthopedist is important. She needs someone who specializes in shoulder joints, not the knee or back.

But what might seem easy enough—create an online profile with a clinician’s name, credentials, and specialty—is far from it. There’s a lot of detail that’s necessary to put into those online profiles, and it can be very hard to get it right.

For example, there may be two clinicians with the same name in a given clinic, or two duplicate profiles with different middle initials made for the same clinician. Clinician offices might change addresses or phone numbers, leading patients down a labyrinthian quest to even contact their doctor.

“Physician data is extremely complex,” Bagchi pointed out. “We have lots of physician data sources that have different levels of fidelity and different levels of quality.”

And there’s a risk to patient satisfaction if CHRISTUS can’t get this right, Bagchi continued. Even if patients can get the right clinic address, it can be a big dissatisfier if they need yet another referral or meet with a clinician who doesn’t quite specialize in their medical needs.

“But if you can get to the right doctor or the right specialist the first time, not only is it a better patient experience, a better consumer experience, it could be a safer and better-quality outcome, too,” Bagchi explained. “If you see the right person at the right time, you get an expedited diagnosis and treatment.”

And that’s not to mention the provider experience. Clinician burnout is a pressing industry problem, and while building out an accurate online profile isn’t going to fix every single burnout problem, it can help the situation. It’s a better situation for everyone, from the provider to the patient to the practice manager, for profiles to be correctly credentialed.

CHRISTUS is tackling this problem with patient engagement vendor Kyruus, which will help the health system aggregate clinician data from not just CHRISTUS sources but from payers and third-party websites like Healthgrades or ZocDoc. Pulling that information and weeding out the inaccuracies will help CHRISTUS build out more accurate and, therefore, more actionable provider profiles, Bagchi said.

This is going to have a natural payoff with patient experience. As noted above, it’s important for patients to visit providers who meet their clinical needs. Making sure online profiles offer accurate details about clinician specialty is key to that. The system also reduces the odds of patients having the frustrating experience of arriving at the wrong clinic address.

None of that is to mention the opportunities for provider engagement CHRISTUS said it will have. The organization is home to some very passionate clinicians who grow frustrated over their inaccurate online profiles, and it can be quite a slog to get those profiles fixed. Sometimes inaccuracies only get noticed during the biannual re-credentialing process CHRISTUS holds.

This new online provider search system puts some of that power back into the hands of clinicians.

“We're actually giving them ownership,” Bagchi stated. “The things that people like in their jobs, and physicians are no different, is when they can practice autonomy over their digital footprint, with guardrails and with some rules of engagement. That's a powerful tool that we just haven't been able to give them in any kind of meaningful way prior to this solution.”

That’s not just an anecdote unique to CHRISTUS. June 2022 surveying of clinicians showed that 94 percent want more control over their online profiles, with 78 percent adding that online presence allows for better patient engagement and self-service and 39 percent pointing out that online profiles help clinicians network and refer with each other.

Most clinicians are happy with their online profiles, the survey added, but according to Bagchi, the new system at CHRISTUS will make it easier for them to suggest amendments when they see fit.

“The 80 percent that might not think about this are going to have really high-quality products digitally available,” he said. “The 20 percent that are passionate about this are going to have access to tools.”

This isn’t necessarily an out-of-the-box solution, Bagchi acknowledged. The system will still need to accurately pull clinician data from across the web, and there’s no guarantee that information is 100 percent accurate. Pulling those web sources, EHR data, and claims data will help create a rich provider profile, but CHRISTUS needs to be prepared to orchestrate all of that data across a broad team, Bagchi said.

There will need to be a lot of checks and balances in building this out, and Bagchi said it will be important to have clinician stakeholders involved.

“We have several leadership and governance groups of physicians that care about these issues, they're the ones that either are personally really passionate about their practice of footprint digitally, or they've heard the complaints or concerns,” he said.

“It's not going to just be as easy as a flip of a switch,” he added. “So, there will be a chance clinician leaders them to preview what we think is the right answer, which we'd be pretty confident will be a much better data set for them before it goes live.”

That should create a perfect storm of good healthcare consumer experience and good provider experience, two factors that feed off each other, Bagchi said.

“Our doctors and our patients want to know that CHRISTUS Health understands them and that they're at the center of the care relationships,” Bagchi concluded. “Getting that accurate data so that they can find each other—or so that patients can find our physicians, our facilities, our access points when they need them—it could be not just a better experience, but it could be a life-saving experience.”

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