In an industry that continually seeks new ways to serve patients and provide a higher standard of care, it's no wonder that healthcare organizations are always looking ahead. Healthcare providers often ask themselves: “What will the hospital of the future look like?” In many ways, the answer is: “Whatever the patients want it to look like.”

Today, patients have more choices than ever before, which has caused healthcare organizations to become much more patient-centric. Hospitals are taking a close look at what patients want and are working hard to give it to them. Of course, the first priority of patients is excellent care, but they are also demanding convenience. To meet this need, healthcare organizations are beginning to provide their services in places where consumers live and shop. The numerous nonemergency medical clinics in drugstores, supermarkets, and big-box department stores are a clear example of this trend.

New facilities, big decisions

In response to the demand for improved services and greater convenience, healthcare organizations are opening facilities of all kinds:

  • Primary care centers, which include internal medicine, family medicine, and pediatric practices

  • Urgent care centers, which can help take the pressure off hospital emergency rooms

  • Diagnostic facilities, such as X-ray centers and laboratory services

  • Satellite surgical clinics, which provide a variety of outpatient surgeries

The reasons for opening these facilities can also vary. Healthcare organizations may be seeking new sources of revenue, have a desire to expand their services to patients or, most likely, simply want to keep up with the competition.

Before any healthcare organization opens a new facility, however, important questions should be asked:

  • What services do our patients need most?

  • Where should we locate our facilities for the greatest convenience to patients?

  • Which areas in the city are the most underserved, and which the most oversaturated?

  • What kinds of resources—from square footage to equipment—should I allocate for the new facilities?

  • How many patient visits can I expect annually?

  • How can I ensure that a new facility won't take patients from an existing one?

With millions of dollars on the line, healthcare organizations have much to gain—or lose—with every decision they make. For this reason, many healthcare organizations are turning to a new resource for answers.

Patient profiling: An objective view of reality

For years, retail companies have used advanced digital technologies to profile their customers and make informed decisions about store locations, merchandising, and marketing. Now, these same techniques are being used in the field of healthcare. Forward-thinking executives are using patient profiling and geospatial technology to learn who their patients are, where to locate facilities to serve those patients, and how to equip the facilities for maximum effectiveness.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of patient profiling is the objective view it provides of an organization's patients. People in the healthcare industry often have strong opinions, and many of these are based on subjective information and personal experience. Often, assumptions or long-held beliefs are inaccurate—and very costly to the organization. Patient profiling replaces gut feelings, intuition, and inadequate demographic information with factual data, which is more descriptive and comprehensive.

The process in brief

“Who are my patients?” For any healthcare organization seeking to expand, this should be the first question asked. Only by knowing who has used the organization's facilities in the past can we predict who will use them in the future. Today's patient profiling goes far beyond demographic information like age, sex, race, and income level. It's now possible to develop incredibly accurate patient profiles by analyzing a wide range of psychographic characteristics and lifestyle behaviors. These might include where people shop, what they do in their spare time, and what kinds of healthcare services they utilize. To perform the patient profile, millions of consumer records are analyzed, both medical and nonmedical. At the end of the analysis, the healthcare organization will know exactly who their core patients are.

Once the characteristics of the core patients are known, it is possible to analyze any trade area in the United States to find other people who share these same characteristics. When large concentrations of the core customer types are found, it could indicate a possible site for a new facility.

Geospatial technology plays an important role in the analysis. Patients are looking for convenience, and this tool accurately predicts how far a customer will travel to utilize a particular healthcare facility. Geospatial analysis takes into account numerous variables, from the size of the city to the speed limit to the number of lanes in the road. When performing this analysis, any nearby competitors are also taken into account.

When the patient analysis is combined with the trade area analysis, the result is a predictive patient model, a model that can reveal with a high degree of accuracy whether a particular location will be successful or not. A detailed “site score” predicts how many patient visits a particular location should expect annually.

Identifying outstanding locations for Concentra

Concentra, which operates more than 320 primary care occupational medical centers and urgent care centers, has used patient modeling extensively to identify the best possible locations for its new facilities.

“For years, we had been basing our location decisions on our own opinions or by simply driving through the area,” says Jay Blakey, senior vice-president, sales and account management. To make better decisions, Concentra asked Buxton's HealthCareID to create a predictive model.

“In our occupational medical centers, our customers are the employers, not the employees,” Blakey said. “Buxton was able to create a customized model that profiled our existing employer customers and find new locations where the same kinds of employers were located. They helped us understand what we were doing wrong, and helped us take steps to find much better sites.”

Concentra uses the predictive model up to eight times per month, analyzing different locations in a variety of trade areas to find a good match. “They give us a number that forecasts the number of procedures annually in that location,” Blakey said. “This tells us not only where to build a new location, but, just as important, where not to build.”

The analysis also helps Concentra allocate resources efficiently. “When we know the number of procedures, we also know the kinds of staffing and equipment we need for the new facility. Their predictions have been very accurate and valuable to our company.”

Recently, Concentra expanded its services to include walk-in patient care. “They've now developed a new model for us that takes into account the surrounding consumer population as well,” he said.

Currently, one out of every 10 work-related injuries is first treated at a Concentra location, and the company's urgent care business is growing rapidly.

Modeling yields multiple benefits

While predictive patient models are used primarily for site selection, a wide range of knowledge can be gleaned from them. For instance, a healthcare organization can analyze the need for specific medical specialties in a certain trade area, as well as the degree of the need. This can help executives make decisions concerning capital allocations, from additional service lines to new equipment. The information can also be useful in the planning of new medical office buildings that offer one-stop shopping for patients. Patient models can predict what kinds of tenants will be successful in the medical building, and even reveal the optimum mix of tenants.

Marketing is another important application of this type of analysis. For any new location, marketing executives will know which households in the surrounding population fit the core patient profile and are therefore most likely to respond to the marketing message. The model can even help identify which mediums—from newspaper inserts to e-mail programs—will be most effective in reaching these potential patients.

Yet another benefit is network optimization, allowing a healthcare system to achieve the greatest possible efficiencies in a given geographical area. If the system expands too aggressively, however, one facility can take patients from another, known as “cannibalization.” By consulting the patient model, executives can analyze the exact effect a new facility will have on others nearby.

Assuring a bright future

In the new world of healthcare, patients are driving some of the most important clinical and operational decisions. Through predictive patient modeling, healthcare organizations can adapt their services to the specific needs of their patient populations. Knowing who your patients are and exactly what they want can also offer a distinct advantage over the competition.

It seems clear that, in the hospital of the future, predictive patient modeling—or the lack of it—will have a real impact on the financial health of many medical organizations. HD

Matt Montgomery is Senior Vice-President of Buxton's HealthCareID division. He can be reached at 817.332.3681 or

mmontgomery@buxtonco.com.

Sidebar

A Positive Prognosis for Retail

In the past, gift shops and cafeterias were practically the only retail stores or restaurants to be found on hospital campuses, and these usually provided minimal services. As healthcare organizations look for new ways to attract patients and differentiate themselves, retail operations are expanding to include bookstores, restaurants, coffee shops, and clothing stores. Through predictive patient modeling, executives can determine which retail concepts will thrive on their campuses.

Not surprisingly, retail stores related to healthcare needs are the kind most often found at hospitals. After all, the average patient leaving the hospital spends an average of $300-$400 on medical supplies. By making these items—from maternity supplies to orthopedic equipment to necessities for cancer care—available to patients, hospitals are able to create new revenue streams.

Some hospitals are opening retail stores that help patients lead healthier lifestyles, which can range from health food stores to exercise equipment outlets. Other hospitals focus on common, everyday services like dry cleaning and banking.

Recently, a new trend toward traditional retail has emerged in the healthcare industry. Hospital executives want patients to feel more comfortable while visiting medical facilities, and familiar retail establishments can help put people at ease. Retail stores and restaurants on a hospital campus can also become destinations in themselves. Once potential patients have visited a hospital to eat or shop, they may form a more positive impression about the organization and could be more likely to use the medical facilities in the future.

Some innovative hospitals are taking this trend even further, constructing their new campuses close to multi-use developments that include retail stores, offices and residences. The Middle Tennessee Medical Center is currently building a $268 million, state-of-the-art facility in the heart of the Murfreesboro Gateway, within walking distance of class-A office space, upscale retail development, and high-end restaurants.

As retail and healthcare continue to mix, predictive patient modeling could become a tool that is widely used to ensure robust results.