Sutter Health’s Chief Digital Health Officer Shares Insights on Digital Health Integration


This interview is part of a series powered by HLTH and CHIME to highlight key insights and perspectives from key leaders speaking at ViVE

The pandemic has prompted many hospitals and healthcare systems to rapidly scale virtual health over the past two years, accelerate the planned implementation of digital health tools. At the ViVE Conference in Miami Beach March 6-9, Sutter Health’s Chief Digital Health Officer, Dr. Albert Chan, will participate in a panel discussion on the intersection of healthcare automation and digital technology. titled patient experience, Icing the patient experience cake with automation.

He will be joined on the panel by:

  • Jonathan Machado, Chief Investment Officer, Samsung NEXT (moderator)
  • Aditya Bansod, Co-Founder and CTO, Luma Health
  • Heather Fernandez, Co-Founder and CEO, Solv Health
  • Julia Hu, CEO and Co-Founder, Lark

To view the full agenda, Click here.

To register for ViVE, Click here.

Chan offered a window into his experience working in digital health at Sutter, from behavioral health to patient portals and artificial intelligence, in response to emailed questions.

Note: this interview has been slightly edited

Last year, you presented on the transformation of scaling telemedicine at Sutter Health since the start of the pandemic. What progress has Sutter made with embracing virtual health since?

Part of the progress comes from broadening the definition of this model of care delivery and demonstrating all the ways it can support patients and providers. Digital health is revolutionary in the way it streamlines services, reduces wait times, advances equity of care, and tackles physician shortages and burnout – solving today’s problems. today with the vision and innovation of tomorrow.

Dr. Albert Chan

We made progress on many fronts of digital health in 2021. Scout by Sutter Health™ is a digital tool launched last year, which builds the everyday resilience of young people aged 12-26 suffering from anxiety or depression. We enhanced our digital waitlist capabilities through our online patient portal in 2021, which allowed people to see a doctor 14 days earlier on average for primary care and 22 days earlier for specialty care. We’ve even integrated HealthKit so patients can easily and securely share their health data from the Apple Health app. It really runs the gamut and has the potential for so much more.

Do you see a difference in the number of no-shows since you increased virtual tours?

Our mental health teams have seen really good progress on no-show rates. Due to the referral of new patients via video, Sutter Health has seen a decrease in no-show rates for established and new patients, up to 5-10% (from 15-25%).

What knowledge have you learned from this experience with patients as well as clinicians and nurses?

Consumers have become accustomed to and expect the convenience of digital health, especially for specialized services like behavioral health or chronic disease management, which have seen great success and promise. We recognize and respect this desire.

Digital health capabilities can also streamline and optimize the work of our clinical teams. We’ve heard from them that this extra support can really make a difference considering everything they’ve faced throughout the pandemic. We are exploring various ways to pave the way for them. Our efforts include an overhaul of online scheduling, more personalized settings in the EHR, and more secure options for clinical chat and image sharing.

Do you consider virtual visits a permanent option in primary care? Do you think specialist care continues to make video visits an option?

For Sutter, the future of healthcare is a digital hybrid – where in-person and digital care are seamlessly integrated to further improve quality of care, convenience and access for patients.

One of the silver linings of the Covid-19 pandemic was patient empowerment through virtual care. This has been made possible by the temporary relaxation of legislative barriers, the modernization of administrative policies and a wide expansion of insurance coverage for virtual care, in particular allowing the patient’s continuity care team to provide these services. . I believe our patients benefit most from integrated care delivery, in which patients can receive care virtually or in person, whichever best meets all of their care needs. To continue the empowerment of patients in virtual care that we have experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic, we must pass permanent legislation allowing clinicians to provide virtual care. We also need the unwavering support of our insurer partners to provide access to hybrid care when patients need it, where they need it, and in the care modality that makes the most sense for the patient’s need, by clinicians who know them best.

Do virtual visits play a role in the delivery of behavioral healthcare at Sutter Health?

Our mental health teams have been able to create more access through virtual visits. Since 2021, more than 80% of outpatient behavioral health visits have transitioned to virtual care.

What are some examples of initiatives you have taken at Sutter Health to use digital health tools to improve patient experience and improve patient outcomes?

Digital health tools can have a role inside and outside of healthcare settings, which is part of the beauty and part of the value. Take for example Bedside Mobile. Hospitalized patients view “My Hospital Stay” via Sutter’s online patient portal from their personal smart device. Bedside Mobile provides insight into the patient’s hospital visit, all in a snapshot. Information includes details of the patient’s hospital care team, lab results, medications, upcoming tests, and any assigned educational materials. This helps patients and their caregivers feel more engaged, informed and supported, which can be extremely important in what may be an uncertain time for them.

We also launched the Care Companion-Health Pregnancy app, a new mobile extension of our online patient portal. Unlike books which are generic and potential source of information overload, our pregnant patients have a digital care companion who provides personalized weekly advice. The app’s content features topics such as maternal safety and breastfeeding. It also offers practical tips for planning sick leave and getting ready to bring baby home. This is another example of Sutter’s commitment to providing patient-centered care for the whole family, at the right time and in the right place.

How do you decide which digital health tools to adopt? What factors do you consider?

For us, our goal is to advance our digital capabilities in ways that create better experiences for patients and clinicians. It’s more about evaluating what we can improve for patients rather than choosing a tool for novelty. We value collaborations that contribute to better outcomes and experiences across the patient care journey. We especially value partners who understand the unique needs and circumstances surrounding healthcare, such as heightened patient privacy regulations and information security needs.

What is your opinion on AI in healthcare? What apps have you seen where it works particularly well? What limitations do you see for this technology?

Artificial intelligence is a way to improve our digital capabilities in the field of health. It can complement the work of our clinicians and improve their ability to care for patients. Our work with Ferrum helps illustrate this approach.

Their quality AI-powered platform is designed to improve the quality of medical imaging, such as CT scans, via a “second read”. The goal is to help find important diagnoses like early-stage lung cancers, so that care and treatment can be accessed more quickly. These efforts can mean a greater likelihood of treatment success.

We have also seen how AI can meet daily health needs. Sutter’s AI-powered Symptom Checker is available 24/7 via our website. The checker, which included a Covid-19 symptom option, was used 60% of the time after hours to help people make informed decisions about next steps in care, whether an urgent care visit, a video visit or maybe a visit to the emergency room. This type of navigation can help save time and avoid unnecessary costs, things that are very important to patients, their families and our providers.

Picture: cyano66, Getty Images


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