West helps providers and patients engage effectively

It’s tempting to think of healthcare reform as the nearly exclusive domain of traditional providers, payers and healthcare policymakers.  But particularly when it comes to matters related to healthcare communications, it’s becoming increasingly clear that many of the necessary steps forward will be facilitated and enhanced by stakeholders who, until quite recently, might not have considered healthcare a major part of their business.

Take West Corporation, for example. Since 1986, the Omaha, Nebraska-based company has been providing an array of communications solutions for clients in the retail, financial and utilities sectors, to name just a few. While healthcare organizations have been part of their client mix for the last 10 years, Pam Mortenson, executive vice president of healthcare market development, said that within the last two years West has put much more focus and emphasis in the healthcare space.

“Our different business units have been servicing healthcare clients,” she explained, “but we hadn’t stepped back and looked at healthcare from a broader, corporate-wide perspective. Now, we’re working across all our business units to take solutions into the patient engagement space.”

What West brings to the healthcare table is a an array of communications solutions in just about any channel – voice, webcasting, text messaging, live communications, fax, mobile, virtual communications platforms – all of which can, one way or another, be brought to bear on the needs of healthcare organizations trying to figure out how to activate and engage patients--getting their patients connected and keeping them that way.

As Mortenson summed it up, “our experience in connecting communications solutions in other sectors has given us good experience to apply to healthcare, particularly as it relates to patient engagement.  In terns of communication and engagement to drive loyalty and retention, healthcare organizations are beginning to resemble companies in retail, travel and other consumer segments. Patients want more choices, everyone wants more transparency.  We can help provide both.”

As an example of an approach to patient engagement West can offer, Mortenson described a partnership the company has developed with Nashville-based Vanderbilt University Medical Center for a cohort of the Center’s patients struggling with hypertension. In particular, Vanderbilt was looking to build strategies around responding to patients between office visits, tracking and following up acute care episodes, and providing advanced alerts and decision-making support, resulting in improved coordination of outpatient care and reduced hospital admissions and emergency room visits.

Before West signed onto the program, Vanderbilt’s communications with the patients in the care coordination program were all done manually, but West has implemented a program that includes a combination of, among other things, automated proactive notifications, including voice and text messaging that is integrated with Vanderbilt’s EMR. The overall objective is to demonstrate the impact of integrated and automated, human in the loop, patient communication on aggregate patient costs for target populations.

“We are automating many of the routine tasks like blood pressure journaling and medication change follow up so that care coordinators spend less time on administrative tasks and more quality time with their patients,” Mortenson explained, “thus enabling better, more efficient management of the program while also enabling care coordinators to manage more patients.”

The program went live in May, 2014, and Mortenson said Vanderbilt is now looking at expanding it to its mid-risk patients in addition to the high-risk patients already participating. Similar programs, she said, can be set up for initiatives such as smoking cessation and vaccination reminders.

As for what opportunities lie ahead, Mortenson noted that as healthcare organizations continue to band together as Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs), one common hurdle is the fact that they are often attempting to tie together an array of disparate communications systems.  “We can leverage those existing systems,” she explained.  “Our technology can sit on top of existing technologies and give ACOs the enterprise-wide view they want.”

Whether it’s doctors talking with their patients or with each other, Mortenson said, “we see our ability to offer a full array of communications assets as critically important.”