How empathy and data drive patient experience initiatives at Community Health Network
Community Health Network is taking a bold approach to patient experience. Focusing on building empathy into the way they use patient experience data, their development of processes is built upon a foundation of patient stories.
We interviewed Patrick McGill, MD, the Chief Analytics Officer at Community Health Network, on his drive for reality-based patient care and how patient experience data helps to achieve this goal.
An unconventional path to medicine
By his own admission, Dr. McGill doesn’t have the traditional story that most people expect. “I don’t have a heartwarming tale about why I became a doctor,” he said. “I wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force, so I applied to the Air Force Academy and was accepted – but they told me in my pre-admission that I couldn’t fly. I was 18, and had to think of what else I wanted to do.”
Dr. McGill thought healthcare would be interesting. Originally wanting to be a neurologist, an experience during his time at the Medical College of Georgia changed his view on what was important. “I did a rotation with a physician in southern Georgia who had been in private practice with years of experience. When he walked in the room, he knew the story of the patient and every detail about what was important to them.
“He knew all these personal stories of patients, and that inspired me. I knew that was the kind of doctor I wanted to be,” Dr. McGill explained. As a result, he chose to go into family medicine, moved from Georgia to Indiana, and arrived at Community Health Network in 2010 as a family doctor.
Why patient care should be part of analytical work
When Community Health Network introduced Epic software for electronic medical records, he became involved in process improvement and optimization. “I was always intrigued by processes and process improvement, but I didn’t have any formal training. I have a chemistry degree,” he explained. “Still, I became heavily involved in informatics.” Seven and half years later, he had reached the position of Chief Analytics Officer.
I always joke and say that I’m an accidental doctor, but really I’m an accidental Chief Analytics Officer.
That was two and a half years ago, and in the time since, all Community Health Network’s analytics, information technology, process improvement, clinical informatics and regulatory reporting has come under Dr. McGill’s purview.
“My background and journey have given me a different perspective and insights into how we should look at patient experience,” he said. “When I’ve taken various jobs, in advance I’ve made it known that it is nonnegotiable for me that I’ll continue to care about patient journeys.”
How empathy stops data from being “weaponized”
Dr. McGill’s early experiences with leadership deepened his understanding of the necessary ties between empathy and data.
His first job out of medical residency was replacing a beloved doctor, tragically killed, in a lone private practice in a small town. “I didn’t believe I was a leader, despite having a practice to lead – I was a doctor. But as a colleague of mine pointed out at the time, the day you have an MD after your name you become a leader, whether you like it or not,” Dr. McGill said.
That experience led him to see that all those involved in healthcare are influential, and that patient experiences and journeys are greatly impacted by that leadership.
Processes, in Dr. McGill’s view, have to be empathetic and centered around the patient and providers, with data to support. “If we take the approach of using data to cast patients into ‘good’ or ‘bad’ categories, we’ve lost the battle right away,” he said.
“We give doctors the data-led reasoning for improving processes, measuring the outcomes and creating the right journey. The last thing we want to do is weaponize data.”
How data can close the inequality gap
Using data with this approach can improve patient outcomes and address inequality in healthcare. “We need to be able to find where inequalities occur so that we can address the issues head on, and having the data gives us a 360 degree view of what’s happening from a process, experience and outcome perspective,” Dr. McGill explained.
It’s hard to measure experience, understand individual desires and build experiences that meet expectations without data.
Implementing processes for better care
Process is often equated with rigidity and a lack of autonomy, but Dr. McGill believes processes don’t have to hamper physicians’ usual medical approach.
“Doctors often think healthcare autonomy is vital, as they have years of experience and want to operate independently,” he explained. “What I’m trying to do is automate and effectively delegate the routine tasks to allow them to do more of their autonomous thinking.”
This drive for process is about out-of-the-box thinking, eliminating friction points and removing points where safety and quality might suffer. “It’s all about thinking differently,” Dr. McGill said.
Why a test-and-learn approach is used for patient benefit
Everything that Dr. McGill recommends is tried and tested in practice. “No matter what we propose - from patient journey to patient experience to informatics - we implement a program on pilot sites. My own practice is a pilot site, so I can understand where the barriers and friction points are and resolve them,” he explained.
This test and learn approach is part of Community Health Network’s dedication to making sure the output is grounded in reality and remains at the forefront of medical need. “If I’m giving out directives in a top-down way, it doesn’t carry the same weight,” he said. “I experience what we implement, and that’s why I feel strongly about continuing to practice. I’m heavily invested in the success of what we’re trying to do for my own patients’ benefit.”
Why the future of healthcare is about being bold
“I feel like everything we’re doing now in healthcare is a bold move,” Dr. McGill commented. “Whether we’re using outreach technology or launching pilots with AI to drive clinical - we’re being bold.”
For Community Health Network, the potential patient benefit is worth the possible failure of a new approach. “We have started to screen everyone for social determinants, and it’s now happening, despite reservations from some. That’s seen as bold, but it’s the right thing to do for our patients, so we’re going to create processes and work through it.”
Community Health Network’s partnership with Qualtrics forms part of this strong drive for better patient experience. “Looking at Qualtrics, it fits with the values we look for in partners - Community Health Network is very relationship-driven,” said Dr. McGill.
I knew we could leverage our experience data found through Qualtrics to improve processes and remove friction for patients.
Part of the company’s bold move approach was to bring patient experience to a place of even greater relevance within the organization. “I’m sure people assume that a business getting insights from Qualtrics is only because they’re not performing well with patients,” he said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth for us - we’ve been in the top percentile for patient experience for years, but we want to go above and beyond to meet patient expectations.”
We wanted to reach the next level of patient experience, and that’s why we connected with Qualtrics.
Circling back to patient stories
This leveraging of patient experience means that Community Health Network can use data to take action and design processes that save lives.
“A few years ago, we launched the sepsis improvement project, where we worked on standardizing treatment protocols for ER patients presenting with sepsis,” Dr. McGill said. “By using this data-led approach, we calculated that 93 people survived who otherwise would have died without these processes being in place. With patient stories like that, it’s much easier to see how patient experience is vitally important.”"
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