Mike Butler talks about changes in healthcare delivery during COVID-19

In April, Mike Butler, president of strategy and operations at Providence, engaged in a webinar with leaders from two non-healthcare retail giants to discuss service delivery in a virtual environment. During the conversation, he talked with Arthur Zaczkiewicz, executive editor at WWD, an online fashion, beauty and retail news site and David Sykes, head of Klarna for the U.S. The topic was consumer spending and behavior in the age of COVID-19, a natural fit for Klarna, a major player in online retail payment services, and gave Providence the unique opportunity to show how healthcare delivery is quickly evolving in the virtual environment, and how this shift could make care more affordable beyond the crisis.

With Zaczkiewicz posing the questions, some of which were asked by real-time viewers, Butler and Sykes provided insightful responses based on their respective industries and perspectives.

For a sneak peek of the conversations between Zaczkiewicz and Butler, we’ve summarized their exchanges below. You can also listen to the webinar in its entirety, which includes a slide presentation by Sykes.

This event was hosted by Penske Media Company and sponsored by Klarna.

Q: How has life changed since COVID-19?

A: As the U.S. was recovering from the financial crisis of 2008, a lot of manufacturing, such as gowns and masks, were pushed off-shore. COVID-19 revealed that the U.S. inventories were very low because of this off-shore manufacturing. I think the lesson learned here is that we need to control our own destiny, manufacture our own masks and gowns, and maintain an inventory so we’re prepared for a crisis like this one. Because there will be another one, at some point.

Providence made the decision early on to shut down 42 of our Express Care brick and mortar sites and have the physicians focus on telehealth and virtual visits. In addition, we trained 8,000 of our physicians on virtual and telehealth, and the results have been truly remarkable. We used to do less than 50 virtual visits a day, and now we’re doing over 4,000 a day.

Our doctors are virtually reaching out to patients at home with chronic diseases and those that are at high risk of depression. I think that has been transformational for our organization. We hope it continues because it will provide a better user experience, help improve productivity and drive more affordability in the cost of U.S. healthcare.

We adopted Microsoft Teams about three months ago and we stood up all 120,000 of our caregivers/employees on that platform. Our adoption rate has been exceptional as people have been working from home, and it allows our hospitals to connect easily with our clinics, physicians and nurses on the frontline.

To keep our caregivers, employees and consumers informed, we built a digital information hub. Coronavirus.providence.org has had an incredible impact in our communities – really helping people understand what is going on, and hopefully encouraging them to stay at home and be healthy.

On the business side, our revenues are down about 50 percent from where we’d normally be in March. A lot of that has to do with the fact that we shut down surgeries and procedures, such total knee replacements. In some places, we’ve seen revenue drop to zero while other places stay black. For example, people are still having babies. About 75,000 babies are born every year at Providence, and the services to support that will continue.

Our hope is that dealing with the COVID-19 crisis will further transform healthcare in our country. In the U.S, we have been trying to manage a public health crisis through private organizations, and we’ve got to find a better way going forward.

Q:  How do you implement a digitalization strategy? Healthcare has been light years ahead of everyone else in this field. How do you start?

A: Our approach has been to listen to our physicians and patients, and try to understand what they’re looking for and how they would access [telehealth]. We received a lot of really good input but the challenge we’ve had is getting people to adopt it, to rally around the cause and champion it.

In addition, our physicians realized the best way to triage patients with [COVID-19] was on the phone, or a virtual visit. Now that the doctors are doing that, they’ve changed the pattern.

Patients can also now use a bot we created named Grace that helps assess symptoms online.

Q: You do the same [digitally] with mental health?

A: Yes, we’ve adopted telepsychiatry in a number of places. Pediatric telepsychiatry has also been incredibly helpful because kids tend to open up more on a virtual visit than they can in-person.

In this crisis, with a lot of people at home alone, we’ve been doing a lot of work to make sure we’re reaching out virtually to patients that are at higher risk of depression.

Q: Regarding the impact of COVID-19, how is digital care going to evolve? What are the permanent changes that you anticipate?

A: On the healthcare side, I think the permanent changes we’re going to see are a result of what we’ve been able to do with virtual healthcare during the crisis.

It’s a moral imperative to drive affordability [in healthcare], especially considering what’s happening to the economy. We’ll take this as far as we can to not only have a better consumer experience, but also drive lower healthcare premiums.

Q: Do you see a generational difference in the ability to engage [in telehealth]?

A: Younger people jump right into it, and older adults are being pulled into it. We’re able to reach out to them in their homes. The beauty of that is that it builds trust between physicians and patients.

Q: Do you have any final thoughts?

A: This is about using the crisis to make things better, like improving the U.S. healthcare supply chain. We’re in dire need of that and I think that it will create jobs in our country. And also, we’ll need to focus on sustaining the things we’ve been able to accelerate [like telehealth]— the things that serve our consumers better and will ultimately drive more affordability.

Remember, if you need care don't delay it. COVID does not mean your chronic conditions take a break, and we want you to know we're ready to provide you with the best care you deserve in the safest way possible. This article provides some answers that patients have been asking about how to get care at our facilities during the COVID pandemic. 






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