How leading organizations are using new ambulatory care centers to re-brand for the future of healthcare

Reputation won’t get you very far – at least on its own. That is one of the key findings coming out of the Advisory Board’s 2014 Primary Care Consumer Choice study which found that attributes related to “reputation” ranked surprisingly low out of a range of the factors that patients rely on to make decisions about their healthcare. What topped the list? Attributes related to access/convenience, cost, and service. Top providers across the country are grappling with this reality right now. Historically, they could grow market share based upon reputation and quality alone. Now, they have to assure that in addition to being associated with the highest level of care – they are also known for convenience, accessibility, and an excellent patient experience.

Outpatient care is one of the first places healthcare organizations look to understand how they can improve on these factors. As new outpatient capital projects emerge, many of these organizations are seizing the opportunity to make convenience and accessibility intrinsic components to those projects, creating operational models and design strategies that can be tested, refined, and shared throughout the system. These environments are the perfect opportunity to redefine or evolve their brand.

There are many factors to consider when redefining or evolving a brand through an outpatient project. Below are some successful strategies used by leading healthcare organizations:

Boost Convenience by Moving Off (or to the Perimeter) of the Main Campus

Historically many outpatient spaces, especially for major academic medical centers, have been hidden deep in the trenches of medical center campuses. This has created challenges related to travel, wayfinding, and overall accessibility of care. More and more organizations are making the strategic decision to invest in a “hub” for ambulatory care outside of the main campus in a location that is more convenient for patients to travel to.

Recently opened St. Louis Children’s Specialty Care Center (CSCC) and Allegheny Health Network, Wexford, Health + Wellness Pavilion have zeroed in on the concept of a one-stop shop for outpatient care in a suburban location within 30 miles from the main campus. Both of these new facilities offer a full range of services, including same-day surgery.  Similarly, academic medical centers such as Northwestern Medicine and the University of Minnesota Health are capitalizing on site location to create greater accessibility to new outpatient facilities that remain on or near the main campuses.  These new settings are providing the perfect “blank slate” to begin to develop both operational models and physical environments focused on convenience.

Increase Patient Satisfaction by Testing Assumptions

While the “one-stop shop” is a growing trend, patient populations they serve can be extremely different. A one-size-fits-all approach will rarely be effective. Investigation into patient expectations of the outpatient experience can help define amenities, design solutions, and technologies that will most likely be successful.

CAN1340_N13_letterFigure 1: In an effort to enhance the patient experience, the public spaces at the new University of Minnesota Health Clinics and Surgery Center, opening in February 2016, were informed by a patient survey on preferences related to arrival, scheduling, registration, and the use of technology.

As part of the design process for the University of Minnesota Health Clinics and Surgery Center, opening in February 2016, leadership commissioned a patient survey at the outset of the project to better understand where their patients’ priorities lie around topics such as arrival, scheduling, registration, and the use of technology (Figure 1). Similarly, at AHN Health + Wellness Pavilion, the design team conducted a research project that helped them identify ten guiding principles for medical malls related to user expectations of the patient experience. The designs of both of these facilities were driven by research.

Consider the Human Side of Healthcare

One of the assumptions that should be tested is the extent to which patients want do-it-yourself solutions. With the emergence of innovations such as self check-in and self-rooming technologies, it’s important to understand that patients may still place significant value on human interaction. Determining where and when to provide that interaction is important.

CAN1639_N2_letterFigure 2: At the new St. Louis Children’s Specialty Care Center, colorful signage mark “check-points” where pediatric patients can obtain stamps on their “passport” when visiting different clinics.

At the University of Minnesota Health Clinic and Surgery Center, a concierge model will be used, where patients utilize valet parking and are escorted from the front door. From there, a combination of technologies are used to help guide their experience.  At the St. Louis Children’s CSCC, children are given a “passport” they receive a stamp on every time they visit and/or move to a new department within the building – allowing for positive interactions with staff (Figure 2).

Include New Stakeholders in the Development of System Standards

System room prototypes and material and finish standards can help healthcare systems develop a consistent image across multiple ambulatory care sites. However, given the rapid pace of physician group acquisitions and system partnerships, outpatient projects often involve new players – whether that be physicians or leadership. These new stakeholders may feel their identity is threatened when brought under a new brand. Involving physicians and defining their expectations is a key factor to creating standards that align stakeholders rather than alienate them.

Stay Top-of-Mind by Offering Amenities That Emphasize Wellness

Bringing “patients” into outpatient spaces for purposes other than clinic visits is one strategy used to emphasize accessibility. The AHN Health + Wellness Pavilion features a demonstration kitchen, classrooms, a café, and staffed playroom (Figure 3). Two floors of the new Northwestern Medicine outpatient facility are dedicated to retail options that emphasize health and wellness. These facilities are becoming community destinations that people will choose to visit for reasons other than healthcare, making them more accessible and desirable options when they have healthcare needs.

140929_AA_Wexford_09Figure 3: The Demonstration Kitchen is one of many amenities that promote wellness at the Allegheny Health Network Health & Wellness Pavilion.

Although no one health system is the same as another, the need to emphasize convenience, accessibility, and reputation is shared. Utilizing the outpatient environment to explore ways of offering a different type of experience can help set the stage for system-wide brand and care model evolution.

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