A Unique Look at Innovation: OSF HealthCare, AVIA Strategize for the Future

Dec. 10, 2020
Leaders at OSF and AVIA discussed the evolution of their partnership, and how they’re working together to identify the best digital solutions to meet specific challenges

As hospitals and health systems across the U.S. face substantial financial pressures and declining consumer confidence as a result of the pandemic, they are increasingly looking for the right partners, particularly when it comes to finding and implementing digital solutions. One organization that’s helping patient care organizations in this area is the Chicago-based AVIA, which leads a network of health systems focused on digital innovation and transformation.

Through renewed and expanded partnerships with Members and new initiatives underway with consulting clients, AVIA leaders see strong momentum across the country in the strategic moves powered by digital. Officials at AVIA tout the network’s differentiated service model, which they say is centered around its membership insights and customized support. AVIA ultimately aims to provide unique market intelligence, proven collaborative tools, and results-based consulting to help solve healthcare’s biggest strategic challenges.

One health system AVIA is working with, OSF HealthCare, headquartered in Peoria, Ill., engaged AVIA to assess the opportunity for digital technology across the system to inform their operational and transformational activities in support of current year financial targets. Becky Buchen, senior vice president, innovation operations at OSF HealthCare, and Amy Dirks Stevens, executive vice president, digital strategy performance and practice lead at AVIA, recently shared details with Healthcare Innovation on the trajectory of the partnership and how the two organizations are working together to identify the best digital solutions to meet specific challenges. Below are excerpts of that interview.

From the health system side, what was behind the motivation to partner with AVIA?

Buchen: About five years ago, we really wanted to think about how we were going to develop an innovation ecosystem that was going to [strike the right balance] across the core, adjacent and breakthrough [innovation portfolio components]. At the time, we really had zero infrastructure, and not a lot of vision in terms of what innovation would look like, so we started in discussions with AVIA and told them we needed help because we weren't going to make a large initial investment in innovation since it wasn't well defined. So we established an early partnership with AVIA to take us through what innovation really looks like, specific to OSF. For OSF, innovation is about translating ideas into value for our patients in our communities. Following that [realization], we said, OK, we can innovate anywhere, but if we do that, we're going to have chaos; so we needed to establish some focus areas. We started down the path, and our initial focus areas were around how to support our rural communities, how to support the aging population, and how to support the [underserved].

AVIA as an organization was looking at Medicaid transformation, and that directly connected to one of our focus areas. So we got some insights, we partnered with them, brought our leaders along, and started to build a culture. Then we recognized that the transformation needed to occur in healthcare could be done through digital. But there’s a whole sea of digital solutions, and we were never going to build a big enough team to be able to quickly [identify] what the best options were. So again, we went to AVIA and asked ourselves what we want the digital front door path to look like. Based on what we wanted to solve, they would provide us different options, and they would also provide linkage to different partners so we could learn quickly.

In the past two years, we have made some significant progress in the social determinants of health [SDOH] space. Really understanding SDOH [entails] having the data, capturing it, asking the right questions, getting it into the EHR, and [identifying] the interventions that will help us solve for [those] determinants. Now we need to be looking ahead for what our focus areas need to be for the future. In addition to how we support the poor, rural and elderly, we added digital health, we added exploring new models of primary care, we added big data, we added radical efficiency, and also precision medicine. Those become our new focus areas.

How about from AVIA’s perspective?

Dirks Stevens: For us, we have this enduring commitment when health systems are part of a membership model, and it gives us the opportunity over years to come to understand each health system’s focus, what they’re trying to solve for, how they make decisions, and how problems that may be vexing to a lot of different health systems—even at the same moment in time—still have to be worked through at an individual health system level. So the ability to help health systems over a period of time is a really different way to set up a partnership with them.

OSF is very forward-leaning in thinking about the types of solutions. They think of innovation broadly and think of digital broadly. They look beyond the question of, ‘Should I go buy something?’ and instead ask themselves, ‘What’s the problem we are trying to solve?’ From there, we put together the strategies that organizations are focused on broadly, we think about how can digital enable that, what performance we need to change, and the new outcomes we need to achieve—be it in SDOH, consumerism, or primary care. By being so embedded with health systems like OSF, we can help them with their governance structure, their change management, and their organizational readiness. That’s when ideas flow through OSF, and there is often a lot of work that needs to be done to really figure out how to create this space for effective decision making, how to compare different opportunities and options, and how to pinpoint which part of the organization is at a state of readiness for an innovation project.

Can you speak to the value that has been achieved via this collaboration so far?

Buchen: We were able to [develop] a five-year roadmap and execute on that over six weeks; that’s when we quickly realized we had to solve for SDOH. The development of the digital roadmap was the first value/result we achieved, and having a roadmap also allowed us to quickly execute when COVID hit. If I have something I quickly want to understand, AVIA has a connected national network, so they could promptly get me in touch with someone who has already done something [in that area]. The partnership has also allowed for some broader brand awareness that connects across our innovation ecosystem, whether it’s people reaching out to understand about more about our healthcare analytics division, for example, or our venture group, or our innovation labs across core, adjacent and breakthrough. 

Dirks Stevens: When we work with members, we go through a disciplined approach to helping them determine which problems they are trying to solve for, the approach they want to build their capabilities around, and then how they can go about doing that. It does start with us doing work around a current state assessment in which health systems can compare themselves to each other and their own progress over time on what ‘good’ looks like in different capability areas. We then help them build a gap analysis to see which pieces they’re missing. For example, if you are putting together the digital front doors, are you missing virtual triaging or online scheduling? We then put together a set of recommendations where health systems will look at things like estimated financial impact and what types of other value they want to add; examples here might include increasing your consumer net promoter score, physician retention growth, the growth of a market, or improvement in clinical accuracy. Then we help them build a business case and help them match if there are digital solutions out there to achieve that. Our job is to help health systems make better decisions faster with confidence, using that data.

Buchen: We were doing a lot of this work pre-COVID, and by partnering with AVIA we were able to pick up lots of recommendations on the digital roadmap as far as COVID response goes. We deployed a chatbot on our website [using] clinical algorithms that helped minimize the call volume within our contact center as that was the first line [for folks]; people were engaging with the chatbot because they had lots of questions. Another example is that we worked with AVIA to identify a light-touch call, so a texting solution for patients who aren’t too sick, but still need to be updated and educated. As you integrate these digital tools as a solution, you get an end-to-end continuum [response] that supported our patients and communities.

How will progress continue to be measured?

Dirks Stevens: Health systems need to distinguish themselves as the essential payers and buyers; they need to do that by excelling at specialty care. They also have to deliver their work in new ways, and be much more efficient, organized, and high-quality. That’s what disruptors are doing when they come into healthcare.

Health systems such as OSF have been working very hard in areas such as SDOH and consumerism, and we’re seeing an additional extension of this with a doubling down on specialty care using digital, and then really opening up their core operations by applying automation as a core function inside the health system. We’re seeing that shift in part because COVID has exposed a lot of infrastructure issues, and in part because the only way to become cost competitive and to be able to really deliver on value-based pricing is to figure out how to automate for efficiency, how to unlock cost reduction, improve productivity, and at the same time make it a better workplace.  

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