LifeStance Health Group Inc. (Nasdaq: LFST) executives tout a homegrown online-booking system as the initial answer to a historic problem in health care.
Dubbed OBIE — short for online booking and intake experience — the company’s new intake process is part of the company’s larger strategy to streamline and modernize the patient experience.
Health care is plagued, as a whole, with bad customer service experiences at a time when other consumer sectors are seeking greater personalization. In a report from McKinsey & Co, 1 in 4 consumers expressed frustration in their experience with the health care sector over poor administrative encounters such as scheduling.
The OBIE system is an amalgamation of existing software with a LifeStance-built user interface and a proprietary patient-provider matching algorithm, LifeStance Chief Digital Officer Pablo Pantaleoni told Behavioral Health Business.
The patient-provider matching algorithm and user interface are the core of OBIE and impact several clinical and business efforts underway at LifeStance. Each of them stands to benefit from getting patients matched with a provider that they “fit” with.
Incorporated in 2015, LifeStance is the nation’s largest outpatient mental health provider, with 5,226 clinicians. It delivers care in a hybrid model, which uses both telehealth and in-person appointments. It is also under new leadership.
“Patients come to LifeStance because they want support and they want to connect with somebody that truly can understand them,” Pantaleoni said. “On the other side of the coin, we have clinicians that come to LifeStance because of the value-adds of our platform including being able to focus on the care they want to deliver.”
On the business side, LifeStance leadership said in its latest earning call that it is seeking to drive greater productivity at the clinical level. Specifically, the company seeks to improve conversion rates through all parts of the “patient funnel” with better operational discipline. This way, it can make the most of the overwhelming demand for mental health services, LifeStance President and COO Danish Qureshi said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call.
OBIE features at the “middle” and “bottom” of the funnel.
In the middle, better patient matching and scheduling is meant to make the most of the company’s provider profile system; to reduce scheduling complexity and open up provider capacity.
At the bottom, OBIE is meant to reduce cancellations and no-shows. LifeStance has a consistent company-wide 15% cancellation rate, Qureshi said on the call.
Cancelation rates “significantly” improve in the states where OBIE is live, Qureshi told BHB. OBIE first went live in Ohio earlier in the year and is expected to be live in 14 states by the end of the third quarter.
LifeStance operates in 32 states.
On the provider side, LifeStance is seeking to improve its provider retention rates. The company has made several moves on this front. This includes creating a stock reward program for qualifying providers. LifeStance is also pairing OBIE with more front-line staff to assist with booking and billing issues to take more administrative burdens off providers.
“That is all about reducing friction and stress in the process of seeking care or being able to meet the patients and deliver care,” Qureshi told BHB.
This also includes addressing the “burden of collecting information up front” with new patients, Pantaleoni said. This can in turn help get people to care faster and cut down on the administrative burden for LifeStance staff.
How OBIE was made and what else it can do
LifeStance interviewed hundreds of patients, clinicians and staff about booking and clinician matching. These included interviews with the users of other matching tools.
Those interviews acted as the basis of the parameters that would shape the algorithm. The top parameter was respecting provider workflows and preferences.
While Pantaleoni didn’t elaborate on specifics, he said the algorithm was developed in-house based on data the company has aggregated itself.
Because OBIE is itself a digital tool, its performance can also be objectively assessed.
“With the way this algorithm was built, we’re in continuous improvement as we continue to roll it out to make sure that we respect the standardization and other criteria across the company,” Pantaleoni said. “But at the same time, it’s extremely flexible to match the needs of both patients and clinicians.”
LifeStance also expects to learn more about patient care-seeking patterns and clinician preferences at the first step of both parties’ journeys.
LifeStance already tracks patient outcomes through a unified electronic health record and outcomes tracking platform to inform care decisions, according to the company’s latest annual financial filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. But Qureshi said that OBIE will have bearing on care outcomes too.
“If you can bring together a patient with a specific diagnosis and match them with a clinician that is perfectly set up, trained and wanting to treat that diagnosis, that [improves] outcomes,” Qureshi said.
What’s at stake
Globally, health care providers have some of the worst customer-satisfaction scores of any industry. Hospitals have the fourth-worst score while ambulatory care providers (a category that includes mental health providers) are 14th from the bottom of the 47 industries ranked by the American Customer Satisfaction Index.
As many as two-thirds of patients say that they have had negative experiences in health care with inefficient office visits as the most common reason, according to a survey by the professional services firm Accenture.
The same survey found the two most important aspects of a positive experience were a provider who explained things clearly and a provider that listens to needs, understands and strikes the right emotional response.
“From outside of LifeStance, the idea is you’re calling randomly down lists of providers hoping someone answers the phone and is willing to book you and you can afford,” Qureshi said. “If you show up to that appointment and it’s not a good fit and you have to start all the way over at the beginning of that process … We can all intuitively know that that’s a very demoralizing path for a patient that is already making a very difficult decision in the first place.”
Pantaleoni added that the company has found that most people don’t even try to restart the process, “which is sad and scary at the same time.”