With the digitization process gaining ground in many sectors, both in Romania and worldwide, companies need to adjust their strategies to the new economic context and come up with a portfolio of digital tools to ease their interaction with clients. Fady Chreih, CEO at Regina Maria, tells Business Review why the private healthcare network has invested significantly in IT and digital tools for its patients and is therefore considered the most digitalized healthcare network on the local scene.
By Anda Sebesi
Few industries have seen such dramatic changes as healthcare has in recent years. The sector is strong and growing, with a value of USD 3.2 trillion in the United States alone in 2016, according to PwC data.
Growing consumer demand for digital-based health services is ushering in a new model for care in which patients and machines are joining doctors as part of the healthcare delivery team, according to a survey by Accenture, conducted last year.
The survey results also show that consumers are increasingly using a variety of digital self-service tools for managing their health. For instance, consumer use of mobile and tablet health apps has tripled over the past four years, from 16 percent in 2014 to 48 percent in 2018.
In one such example, patient portals, more than four in ten respondents (44 percent) said they have accessed their electronic health records over the past year, primarily to get information on lab and blood-test results, look at physician notes regarding medical appointments and view their prescription history. Last but not least, 74 percent of US respondents said they were satisfied with the virtual care they had received, with nearly half (47 percent) saying that, given a choice, they would prefer a more immediate virtual medical appointment over a delayed in-person appointment.
The findings relate to the US portion of a seven-country survey that Accenture commissioned as part of its 2018 Consumer Survey on Digital Health report. The purpose of the survey — of 7,905 consumers aged 18 and older, including 2,301 from the US — was to assess consumer attitudes toward healthcare technology, modernization and service innovation.
“Driven by experiences outside of healthcare, consumers increasingly expect to use digital technologies to control when, where and how they receive care services. By harnessing digital technologies in this way, healthcare will increasingly tap digital technologies to empower human judgment, free up clinician time and personalize care services to put control in patients’ hands,” said Kaveh Safavi, senior managing director for Accenture’s global healthcare business.
Moving to Europe…
For the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), technological development is primarily a great opportunity to catch up with their more developed Western European counterparts, and is conditioned on the implementation of an effective business model, in terms of both cost and quality of services.
According to a PwC analysis (entitled Patient in the Digital World – How new technologies are changing the medical services market in Central and Eastern Europe) close to 60 percent of patients in CEE are prepared to use telemedical solutions. The new generation healthcare will increasingly use more technological innovations, such as mobile devices, dedicated applications, teleconsultations, and even artificial intelligence or data mining tools. The same analysis shows that the value of the private medical services market in the region is estimated at nearly EUR 14 billion per year.
The group most affected by the technological revolution that will take place in the coming years will be private private medical suppliers’ patients, who pay for services from their own pockets or use medical care subscription packages/medical insurance provided by their employers. As PwC says, private healthcare providers have to prepare for increasing demands from these patients and changed preferences regarding greater care for health and more frequent use of available medical advice; an opportunity to see a doctor, with expectations to independently select a given specialist; an immediate and convenient opportunity to see a specialist, have diagnostic tests done, and access test results.
… and landing in Romania
Once the technology advances, its implications for companies becomes more and more visible. Digital consumption forces firms to adjust or change their traditional ways of approaching their customers. According to the 2018 edition of the Barometer of Digitalization, a study conducted by Valoria in partnership with doingbusiness.ro, the digitalization process is on an upward trend among companies that operate in Romania, with private healthcare service providers among them.
In this context, Regina Maria, the private healthcare network, recently launched its self-check-in service, a premiere for the local market. The service allows a patient to register personally in the system – thus announcing their presence for a medical appointment, either using the mobile app My Regina Maria Account or self-check-in terminals in the receptions of its clinics. Plus, patients can find rapidly both the floor and medical office where they need to go and receive re-confirmation of the name of their physician.
The entire process takes about 15 seconds and eliminates extra time spent at the reception. “It is an option mainly for the benefit of the patient and it comes in addition to the online appointment option. So our patients benefit from full control of their time and their entire medical journey with us. They can choose how to interact with us, from the medical appointment to receiving the results of their tests or medical investigations, which can be checked online too, through the “My Account” facility from Regina Maria mobile app or website,” says Fady Chreih, CEO at Regina Maria. “If they choose to manage everything by themselves, then this is the alternative. It is a step towards medicine 2.0.”
According to Chreih, the reason behind this strategic move is the fact that our world is now in constant change. Plus, the pace of adjustment to the current context is no longer a cliché and it plays a major role in the performance and the future of a company. The mobile trend, connectivity, real time and user experience are concepts already adopted by companies that aim to keep pace with the new demands in the services sector and offer their customers a relevant and complete digital experience.
“Regina Maria constantly improves its user-experience and increases the effectiveness of the communication with its patients. This is why we have developed our portfolio of digital solutions, including the self-check-in service,” adds the CEO.
At present, the self-check-in service is available through the Regina Maria mobile app and in 11 locations in Bucharest (including its three hospitals: Baneasa, Euroclinic and Ponderas Academic Hospital), Cluj, Iasi, Brasov and Timisoara. “We are thinking of extending the service to our entire network, but for now we are monitoring the results of this pilot-project, which is being implemented in large locations with significant patient traffic. We are testing, assessing and optimizing it based on feedback from our users and are likely to make a decision about its extension within six months to a year,” adds Chreih. According to him, for Regina Maria, 2019 is the “go digital” year.
“So far, we have improved our patient experience by launching the online appointments service and self-check-in, but there are other digital options we are working on now,” says the head of the healthcare provider. He adds that such services, especially self-check-in, are a novelty for the medical field both in Romania and in the region, despite already being used by other sectors like air transportation.
Significant investments in digitalization
According to Chreih, at present Regina Maria is the most digitalized healthcare network in Romania. “We demonstrate this through our appetite for offering our patients all the tools and facilities they need when interacting with us. Plus, it is about us, as an organization, being in line with international digital and mobile trends. It is a process that started five years ago and since then we have tested many things, developed systems and the necessary infrastructure and allotted a dedicated investment budget in this direction,” explains the Regina Maria head.
Online appointments, self-service (a facility through which the company ensures that its patients’ medical data are safe), “Ask a doctor” and other projects that are under development are part of the company’s digitalization process.
As for the main digital tools that Regina Maria has invested in so far, the company’s website, the mobile app Regina Maria that integrates “My Account” (which offers access to medical records from Regina Maria over the past ten years), the option for online appointments, “My Pregnancy” mobile app, the scores of its doctors on the website, “Ask a doctor” and self-check-in are some of them. “We have invested an average of EUR 2 million per year in recent years in digital tools, although sometimes the budgets allotted have been even larger than that,” says Chreih. He adds that through these investments, the company aims to improve its patients’ experience and optimize their interaction with Regina Maria. “It is about empowerment. People have full rights when it comes to managing their medical journey at Regina Maria,” he says.
According to National Institute of Statistics data (INS), cited by economica.net, and analyzed by the Patronage of Private Healthcare Services Providers (PALMED), there were about 60,000 medical units in Romania in 2017. This means that if the entire Romanian healthcare system were digitalized at a minimum level, the investment made by both private and state-owned healthcare providers would reach EUR 120 billion per year, according to calculations made by Business Review (at an average investment of EUR 2 million per year). “At international level we’re talking about a digital transformation which helps patients take care of their health more easily and quickly. The focus is on increasing the effectiveness of the entire medical flow, on easing interaction between patients and healthcare services providers. Telemedicine, artificial intelligence, online payment and self-check-in are on the wave now,” explains Chreih. “But because there are very new trends in the healthcare sector, we’re learning from each other. And first, we learn very much from the feedback and suggestions of our patients.”
According to him, the online appointment service was launched in July 2018 and started with an average of 100 online appointments/month. In less than a year it reached 10,000 such appointments a month. “It is on an upward trend with monthly average growth of 40 percent. If this current trend continues, we estimate that 30 percent of the appointments could be scheduled online by the end of 2019,” says Chreih.
Playing a double role
The Regina Maria website has developed a lot in the last few years, from a simple site to an educational platform that encourages a healthy lifestyle. Its transformation started back in 2014, generated by a more complex context. First, it was about the need for proper medical information that is previously validated by doctors. “Let’s keep in mind that Romanians are champions when it comes to self-diagnosis and self-medication. People prefer gathering information from the internet, sometimes from dubious sources, to going to a doctor. We considered it our duty to contribute to proper information and supporting health education,” says Chreih. The company already implements such activities among its subscribers, through workshops organized for its corporate clients. “The real battle was online, where forums were and still are full of unwitting advice.”
The Regina Maria website now hosts verified information written or validated by doctors and covers almost every medical topic of general interest from medical tests (including a dictionary), to pregnancy, nutrition, sleep, allergies, flu, cancers, women’s and men’s health, infant illnesses, infographics, myths about health and medical curiosities. “In addition, our patients now have the ‘Ask a doctor’ option, where they can upload medical documents and address different questions to our specialists. They will receive an answer via email within one or two days of their request,” adds Chreih.
When patients rate their doctors
In order to increase the effectiveness of its activity and optimize it, Regina Maria implemented electronic feedback in 2014, enabling patients to give feedback on doctors via e-mail or directly, using the Regina Maria mobile app. “All feedback received is ranked as positive, negative or neutral. All the negative feedback, known as alerts in our internal language, is sent instantly both to our customer care department and the manager of the specific location for which the patients gave their feedback. When possible, we take immediate measures. Each time, these cases are debated at team level, improvements of the flows are made and patients receive a response to their feedback,” explains the CEO. So far, over 1,200 of the clinic’s doctors have been scored as a result of 165,000 unique reviews, and the average score of the doctors working within Regina Maria network is 9.6. Scores are based on a feedback enquiry which includes ten questions to assess both medical and non-medical aspects of the patient’s visit: from the cleanliness, to the waiting time, interaction with the receptionist and satisfaction with the medical side (doctor’s attitude, interaction with him or her, information offered). Each patient gives a score for all of these aspects, which generate an average score and assessments which are monitored carefully each month.
My Account medical record app
What is it: It addresses all patients, both subscribers and non-subscribers. Registered users have at their disposal their entire medical records for services provided by Regina Maria in the last ten years: examinations, investigations, tests. Users that don’t have a Regina Maria account can access the app except for some sections dedicated to patients, where patient identification is requested.
Number of users: 100,000
Benefits for patients: Allows patients to optimize their time, using the online appointment. The app offers two alternatives to the classic call center: online appointments and requests for an appointment via a call center. The latter means that the user sends the call center an online request for an appointment. The call center will call back to complete the process. It is a mix between the call center and online appointment which can be managed individually and entirely online.
- They have permanent access to their medical files, can check the details of confirmed appointments and add them to their calendar;
- They don’t wait at the front desk, and find quickly the floor and office where they need to go directly from the app;
- They are rewarded for taking exercise, using the “Bank of kilometers” option, through which they can convert the kilometers they run into screening packages available in the app;
- They understand their test results more easily, following the values indicated for each test;
- They have direct access to doctors from the Regina Maria network through the “Ask a doctor” section;
- They get the latest health news, through the “Medical education” section.
Mommies on the internet – “My Pregnancy” mobile app
- Moms-to-be have access to medical information based on their stage of pregnancy (weeks), including details about the evolution of their unborn baby;
- Informative medical articles about the entire pregnancy period;
How does self-check-in work?
Upon reaching the location of their appointment, patients have two self-check-in options:
- Directly from the app, accessing “Details about appointment”. In order to do online check-in the patient needs to have the location turned on and allow the Regina Maria app to access the location;
- At the self-check-in desk in Regina Maria locations: either scanning the QR code available both in the Regina Maria app and in the emailed appointment reminder or introducing the code sent via SMS.