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Examining a Health System's Digital Path to 'Stickiness'

Analysis  |  By Eric Wicklund  
   August 08, 2023

Patrick McGill, executive vice president and chief transformation officer at Indianapolis-based Community Health Network, talks about the health system's digital health strategy and efforts to attract consumers.

Search engine optimization (SEO) might not come up often in healthcare conversations, but to Patrick McGill it's an important strategy for a health system. Being the first brand consumers think of when they are looking for healthcare affirms that your organization has made a connection with potential and existing patients.

"We're taking friction out of the healthcare experience," he says. "I want this to be as seamless as when [consumers are] Googling care."

And that means taking control of the digital points of entry into the healthcare system, from online searches to patient portals and scheduling apps so consumers can access what they need for care.

McGill, MD, MBA, is the executive vice president and chief transformation officer for the Community Health Network (CHNw), an Indianapolis-based organization of more than 200 sites of care. The health system sits at the epicenter of a competitive healthcare market, which includes Ascension St. Vincent Health and Indiana University Health as well as a growing number of telehealth companies, health plans, and retail firms with their own providers.

Amid that competition, McGill says CHNw understands the imperative of making the healthcare journey as intuitive and smooth as possible. He's at the helm of that effort, which has been underway for several years.

"We used to have a hodgepodge of web pages," he says. "Some of them would lead to dead ends. We saw lots of drop-offs [as] people didn't continue their journey. Our goal was to create one digital front door that [would offer] a consistent online experience for consumers. We have to be the connector that brings them to the care they want."

According to a 2021 study posted in the National Library of Medicine, roughly three-quarters of consumers search for online healthcare services before making an appointment, and just as many (if not more) go online first to ask healthcare questions. That inclination to search online for a care provider is even more prominent among younger generations who aren't interested in having a primary care provider and who are used to the convenience of shopping online for banking, travel, hospitality, and retail services.

McGill says CHNw needs to have an online presence just like Amazon, Walmart, and other healthcare providers, because that's where the healthcare journey starts for many people.

After chatting with executives at Providence, CHNw partnered with DexCare, a digital health company launched out of the Pacific Northwest—based health system to develop a unified online platform. McGill says the health system didn't have the infrastructure in place or the expertise in-house to create the consumer experience that the market now demands.

"How do we understand that journey?" he asked. "We were trying to think about it in terms of the customer experience."

To do that, McGill says, the health system had to understand "stickiness," or strategies to attract and keep a consumer's attention during online visits and transactions. That includes coupling the initial reason for the consumer's visit with relevant information and resources, and then integrating data from with the medical record so that providers can add appointment reminders, wellness check-ups and other services. That might include pharmacy services, labs and tests, even virtual care options.

"This allows us or even forces us to have a strategic conversation" about how to integrate in-person and virtual care, he says. And it allows the health system to create "warm hand-offs" for consumers who are looking for on-demand care via telehealth.

"The more self-service tools that we can put onto this platform, that's one more phone call (from a confused patient) that doesn't have to be made," McGill says. Or one more patient who will continue a relationship with CHNw instead of looking elsewhere.

As the health system moves forward with its digital health blueprint, McGill says the health system must become more attuned to a patient's healthcare journey, not just the episodes of care. That's part of the plan for evolving from episodic care to value-based care. And it means combining information with channels to interact more frequently with patients, giving them options that affect both immediate care and overall health and wellness.

"It's smart navigation," he says. "At the same time, we're looking at new ways to learn the behavior of a patient, [so as to] understand the journey better than we've been able to do before."

“We're taking friction out of the healthcare experience. I want this to be as seamless as when [consumers are] Googling care.”

Eric Wicklund is the associate content manager and senior editor for Innovation, Technology, and Pharma for HealthLeaders.


With more consumers shopping online for care, healthcare organizations need to adopt a digital health strategy that emphasizes convenience and easy access.

That strategy begins with a comprehensive digital front door that enables consumers to search for the care they need and gain access to appropriate resources and services.

A health system can turn consumers into patients by offering them the information and services they're seeking, then enticing them to continue the conversation about their healthcare journey.

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