To compete more effectively—and maintain and grow its market share among patients in the suburbs west and south of Chicago—Edward-Elmhurst Health is accelerating digital and consumer-driven healthcare.

For a smaller health network competing against much larger hospitals in the Chicago market, Edward-Elmhurst Health likes to go big on digital healthcare.

Headquartered in Naperville, Ill., Edward-Elmhurst operates three hospitals in Chicago’s western suburbs and goes head to head against much larger metropolitan health systems such as University of Chicago Medical Center, Northwestern Memorial Healthcare, Rush University Medical Center and others for patients and their business.

But to compete more effectively—and maintain and grow its market share among patients in the suburbs west and south of Chicago—Edward-Elmhurst began developing an aggressive digital healthcare program several years ago. It aimed to deliver self-service web tools for patients to better manage their health, wellness and business affairs and to offer more patient care programs such as telehealth and walk-in clinics.

Now Edward-Elmhurst, which operates Edward Hospital, Elmhurst Hospital and Linden Oaks Behavioral Health and more than 50 outpatient locations, is accelerating its digital and mobile efforts for patient care and to make it easier to use its health system, says president and CEO Mary Lou Mastro. In the past month Edward-Elmhurst has rolled out new digital tools for patients—an online costs comparison tool to check pricing on various procedures, and a new employee and patient satisfaction program that the system is using to make improvements to programs such as digital healthcare and plan what comes next.

This is all about becoming more transparent and more sensitive to the patient.

The initiatives are part of the health system’s consumer-driven health strategy, which emphasizes making healthcare convenient, accessible and transparent for patients and their families, Mastro says. “Hospitals have notoriously been behind on pricing transparency compared to other industries,” she says. “We owe it to our customers to take the mystery out of the process and provide this information so they can make more informed decisions for their healthcare.”

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Edward-Elmhurst says it is the first health system in Chicago to offer a price comparison tool to help patients plan their expenses. The costs calculator, which took the hospital nine months to develop and launch using database services from Experian Information Services, provides cost estimates for MRIs, CT scans, CTAs (computed tomographic angiography), ultrasounds, X-Rays, cardiac testing, mammographies, bone density testing and lab services.

Mary Lou Mastro

For patients with insurance, a cost estimate is determined based on any remaining balance to meet the insurance plan’s deductible, coinsurance percentage and any co-pay requirements, along with the insurance plan’s allowable amount (the negotiated contract rate Edward-Elmhurst has with the insurer) for the requested procedure.

The tool currently does not provide cost estimates for in-patient stays, observation stays/visits, emergency room visits immediate care visits or professional fees such as the separate charges from affiliated radiologists and anesthesiologists. But additional tests and procedures will be added in the near future.

“This is all about becoming more transparent and more sensitive to the patient,” Mastro says. The cost calculator is accessible by desktop computer or by smartphone and tablet. To use the tool, patients use a series of dropdown menus to select the hospital, enter insurance information or select self-pay for uninsured consumers and then choose a category and a procedure.

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From January through September during the development phase, the tool was used mostly by hospital staff to create 12,292 estimates for the health system’s hospital in Naperville, Ill., and for 6,757 estimates at another hospital in Elmhurst, Ill. Since the cost estimator tool went live for patient use in September, it has been used by consumers to create 1,035 estimates including 627 and 408 estimates, respectively, at its Naperville and Elmhurst campuses.

“We compare the cost of the exam that the doctor has ordered to the contract the hospital has with the insurance companies and we compare that to the patient’s individual insurance benefits,” says Edward-Elmhurst pre-service financial specialist team lead Jillian Alvarez. “With that information we are able to estimate the patients out of pocket responsibility.”

The health system did not say how much it cost to build and launch the online costs calculator but says the biggest challenge was working with reams of internal and external carrier data and procedure cost codes and developing the tool in a way that made it easy and convenient for patients to use. “Getting all the information built in the tool to make it as user friendly for our patients remains our ongoing focus,” Alvarez says.

The online cost benefits to is the latest in a series of digital initiatives from Edward-Elmhurst over the last several years. In May 2016, Edward-Elmhurst Health rolled out online physician scheduling for multiple system-owned clinics and affiliated physician groups in Naperville, Ill., and other west suburban Chicago locations.

Patients have the option of scheduling an appointment online with about 120 of the system’s 300 affiliated physicians for certain general and specialized treatment, the health system says. In the past several years the hospital system also has rolled out real-time wait times for its emergency rooms, clinics and immediate care centers that patients can access online and HealthAware, a series of online health questionnaires available for patients to fill out to assess their risk for addiction, anxiety, breast cancer, colon cancer, depression, diabetes, heart disease, lung cancer, sleep disorder and stroke.

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Edward-Elmhurst began developing its digital healthcare program in 2009. The health system won’t disclose how many patents it has signed up for its patient portal. But more than 16,000 appointments have been made using the online scheduling tool so far and Edward-Elmhurst is currently testing telehealth internally with employees.

More digital and mobile healthcare initiatives will be added over time, although the health system has yet to break out specifics.

What Edward-Elmhurst does going forward will in part be based on a new staff and patient initiative the system is rolling out to better pinpoint problems and bottlenecks patients encounter along the way from the time they book an appointment through treatment, discharge and follow-up care.

“Everything we are doing is focused on a consumer-driven strategy,” Mastro says.

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