Mona Baset Industry Insights Interview

The impact of COVID-19 & the evolution of virtual care

As part of an interview series with healthcare leaders across the country, the Olive team had the chance to interview Mona Baset about the biggest challenges facing healthcare today and the potential for artificial intelligence to transform the industry. Previous to her current role as VP of Digital Services at SCL Health, she held multiple leadership positions at Atrium Health and Bank of America. Mona holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of California at Irvine, a master’s degree in Communications from California State University at Fullerton, and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Wake Forest University.

Q: Some experts are saying that COVID-19 will result in healthcare facing a new “normal.” What are your thoughts and how do you currently see healthcare taking this on?

COVID-19 has definitely thrust all of us into a new world, in nearly every aspect of our lives – from working from home, schooling, socializing. For example, when we have to venture out for essential needs, everyone is keeping a safe distance from one another, wearing masks, carrying hand sanitizer, and I think businesses are trying to adjust as quickly across all industries to offer new ways to engage and keep afloat during this time.

It’s really amazing to me how quickly we’ve adapted to a situation that a majority of people had never even thought about. And certainly healthcare is no exception – we’ve had to adapt as well, and at lightning speed. The silver lining to this crisis is that the healthcare industry has had to implement changes in mere days or weeks, that have been discussed for years. The great thing is that patients are benefiting and will continue to benefit from these changes.

I think about virtual health, for instance, which has been slow to be offered by many health systems and is now becoming a requirement. When you think about video visits or e-visits, for example, they’re becoming the preferred mode of care, when possible. You may even see more virtual hospitals being developed where patients can be sent home sooner with a few tools that allow for them to be monitored and cared for virtually from their home, with just simple access to the internet or a mobile device. Many patients and providers may have been hesitant to use these advancements in the past – change can be difficult – but I’ve found over and over again that once people try virtual care, they become much more used to the convenience and are more open to using it again in the future.

Even Medicaid has adjusted guidelines temporarily to include virtual care reimbursements and eligibility, so things have been changing rapidly. I do think that as both patients and providers get used to these more innovative modes of care, they will continue to be popular in appropriate cases long after COVID-19 is no longer a part of our daily lives.

Q: As health systems transition to more virtual platforms and solutions, what are some ways that SCL has succeeded in moving to a more digital space?

Generally speaking, SCL health is very innovative and strategic when it comes to identifying challenges and opportunities and then delivering the right solutions to meet those needs. We already had video visits and e-visits available to patients and worked to quickly expand the number of providers delivering care in those channels across the health system. Additionally, we’re focused on transitioning many office appointments to video, and I think video visits for certain cases may become the default visit type.

We’re also developing ways for providers to do some of their work from a tablet from outside of an infected patient’s hospital room, when required, or connected into a patient’s own bedroom at home, so a lot of interesting ways to drive that virtual care into the future.

We’re also working on chatbots to help consumers get questions answered about COVID-19, check their symptoms and then get suggestions for care and next steps based on their answers. This is critical to freeing up provider time, so they can focus on those critically sick patients coming through hospitals. There are many people out there with a lot of questions and anxiety, so these solutions will answer some of those questions that could otherwise tie up crucial provider time. We’re seeing new chances for innovation arising everyday as new needs crop up, and right now we’re delivering those solutions faster than we ever have before.

Q: With several years of leadership experience in marketing, what do you think are best practices for brands to embody during a global crisis?

For successful brands today, they should really continue the approaches that have made them successful in the past – focusing on being helpful, providing heroic levels of customer service, adjusting to the very different needs of customers in today’s environment, and ultimately being ready for the initial surge of business once we get through this crisis.

For example, if you’re a health system, you want to be ready to offer useful information to your patients on how to get care, or how to receive that care virtually, in some cases. If you’re an airline, perhaps you’re waiving change fees and staffing up to address the huge rush of questions around changes with travel plans. If you’re an auto manufacturer, you’re offering deferment plans or payment relief options to customers unable to pay.

The brands that focus on doing the things that made them successful brands previous to COVID-19 will be the brands that emerge stronger once we get through this pandemic.

Q: If you could eliminate one of the healthcare industry’s challenges overnight, which one would it be?

If you asked me this question in December, I definitely would have said the healthcare industry needs to adopt a more focused customer service mindset. But in the past few weeks, I’ve seen quite a bit of that happening. When I think about the work that we’re doing in healthcare today, we’re completely focused on the consumer – how can we deliver care safely and effectively in this new world? We moved some of our workforce to be remote and I see us doing a great job collaborating and sharing across the organization and other care sites – we’re leveraging digital tools to do that work effectively and offering more types of virtual care than ever before. And as I mentioned before, we’re using AI to help consumers access the information they need really quickly to make the right decisions.

I really do hope we continue this trajectory because I think the thing that’s kept the industry behind is that lack of focus on the consumer, and that’s changing right now. You already see that focus across other industries, and we’ve really expedited healthcare’s path to get there.

Q: Leading a digital department requires learning about new trends and solutions as well as identifying the right ones to pursue, what advice would you give to other healthcare professionals when it comes to where to find inspiration and fresh ideas?

In the healthcare industry, the pace of innovation, consumerism and digital transformation is absolutely accelerating, and we’re seeing that trend even more so today with higher levels of adoption. There are several health systems that are doing really impressive things to drive care in innovative ways.

But as I mentioned before, generally speaking, healthcare is still behind in many areas, including customer service, digital self service tools, and ongoing patient engagement, to name a few. Because of that, our team likes to look outside our industry – to retail, financial services, etc. If you look at those industries, they’ve already been through the journey of transforming their customer experiences, and healthcare is learning from that.

You think about the usual suspects – Amazon, Uber – and they’ve managed to disrupt their industries by creating a frictionless consumer experience that gives control back to the consumer. A company that I used to work for, Bank America, offers a banking experience that is so comprehensive, simple and easy to use, that most of their customers haven’t set foot in a banking center or even talked to an agent on the phone in years.

Healthcare is a very unique industry. We’re different because we’re offering a very intimate experience, so how do we continue to be a trusted partner that patients let into their lives during the most stressful or difficult times? How can we do that while we still provide a high level of customer service and experience?

In a prior role with another healthcare organization, a few years back, we stopped using the word patient and started using the word consumer instead, and something magical happened: we started to focus on delivering a higher level of customer service. We started to see our patients as people who have a choice and very high expectations, and we should be able to deliver upon those expectations.

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