Editor’s Note: The HIStalk Practice Winners Circle is an interview series featuring physician practice professionals that have been recognized for their health IT-related expertise.
Albert Wolf, MD is CFO and Todd Wolynn, MD is president and CEO of Kids Plus Pediatrics in Pittsburgh. The pair won the 2016 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the healthcare category.
Tell me about yourselves and the practice.
TW: The practice was actually started in the 70s by two of our teachers from residency. We basically took it into a new evolution in 2010, and made it Kids Plus. The five current owners are physicians. Al is an MD/MBA and I am an MD/MMM, which is a Masters of Medical Management. I was just telling the guys today about an NPR story on physician dual degrees and how that is the next wave of the future – looking at predictive analysis and leveraging business analytics. It’s now about the business of medicine, rather than the art of medicine, which we’ve always emphasized. It takes great business to deliver great medicine.
When you took over in 2010, was the innovative use of technology a part of your vision for the practice?
AW: Yes, it was. That’s actually written into our mission statement, which is "Meet, Learn, Grow." "Meet" is really just meeting our patients where they are. The use of technology is vital for that. It allows us to meet patients and their families in their home, at work, in their backpacks, on their phones, on their laptops, and on their tablets. Wherever they are, whatever means of communication works best for them, we want to be there for them. Again, our goal is always, how can we best serve them? It’s not let’s make them adapt to the way we do things. We adapt to the way they want to do things. That was integral when we formed Kids Plus.
What technology did you start with and how has that evolved as the practice has grown?
TW: When we formed Kids Plus, we were using an EHR, but it was, in our opinion, not great. It was an adult-based EHR that did pediatrics on the side. When we formed Kids Plus, we changed EHR companies to a pediatric-specific EHR that we felt better enabled us to do outpatient pediatrics. Since then, we’ve changed EHR companies again. We’re currently with Physician’s Computer Company. We’re always looking for how we can best leverage technology to serve our patients.
What about portals, branded apps, and telemedicine?
TW: With each EHR – with any kind of technology, really – we’ve tried to enhance the patient engagement with technology. That certainly has included the EHR and patient portals, which we’ve had for over six years. We really try and take technology back to the mission, to meet, learn, and grow with people. As that goes, technology has been heavily leveraged in terms of not just a Web presence, but a very deep and meaningful social media presence through several different venues, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. That’s undersold, often times underappreciated, and honestly met with fear by the healthcare community.
We take our patient engagement/technology show on the road. We’ve been invited to the Children’s National pediatric business meeting in DC over the last several years, and were invited to the nationwide Children’s meeting last year so that they can better understand how we leverage technology as part of the patient engagement experience. We’ve really recreated a new footprint for what we envision the pediatric practice of the future looks like. It’s physically different. We have a multi-purpose engagement space, which we call The Well. We have a physical play and fitness space, which we call the Fitness Through Play Space. We then take that layer of really unique physical engagement and then layer on top of that a really unique virtual engagement. Part of what differentiates us, and definitely part of what got us to win the Ernst and Young award, was this different experience that families have at Kids Plus because of this marriage of physical and virtual immersion.
With regard to apps, we haven’t found that killer app that provides the kind of functionality that would make it Kids Plus worthy at this point.
You mentioned that the healthcare community has traditionally shied away from using social media as part of patient engagement initiatives. In what ways has Kids Plus moved beyond that fear you referred to earlier?
TW: Our standing charge is to know our audience, which is millennials. They’re the people that are having kids right now. This is a generation that really does not have the same kind of connectedness to the rule books their parents had, like Dr. Spock. They’re on their phones and their kids are on their phones. Their social peer groups are often times much stronger in some ways than their limited network of physical friends. Recognizing that, and really having some vision as to where people were going and what they needed … we realized they needed somebody to be there with them in a virtual manner. That’s not to say we want to take away from that physical engagement, because we know how important it is, but there’s only so much you can do in a 10- or 15-minute visit. It’s part of the reason we reimagined what the physical space looks like.
We have moms groups here, which is actually a really compelling group called New Moms Coffee that meets in the Well. When they age out, they now go into Not-So-New Moms Coffee, which is for mothers of seven- to twelve-month-olds. There’s Toddler Time, which is from 12 to 36 months. On top of that, we’ve layered a closed Facebook group for each of those groups, which has now been scaled out to all three of our offices, both physically and virtually. The Facebook group is about to exceed 1,000 moms. It’s now spurred off multiple Facebook groups, based on interest. They all have a common interest of raising these new children within our community. On top of that, they’ll break off into running groups, academic groups, knitting groups, whatever their interest is. It’s been pretty neat. On top of that, we never rested on our laurels and said, "Well, this is going great." We then said, "How do we make this even more meaningful?" which is part of why we’ve gone even more heavily into videos.
Our biggest move in the last two years has been the creation of our production studio, right on site. People gave us weird looks when we told them we have a communications director! Matter of fact, the group out of DC Children’s National pretty much told us they don’t invite us every year because we scare the audience too much. They give us a year of recovery time. The last time we presented, they gave explicit directions to me and our director to not scare their docs too much, and give them something they can easily do. The last time we were there, in 2015, we revealed our very first video segment that came out of the production studio.
We use videos now for human interest stories and community engagement, plus health-oriented segments called The Daily Dose. Those particular videos, which are between 45 and 75 seconds, are built off an e-book our providers created on various health topics. We keep building on that platform, which definitely leverages technology, but is really about connectivity and community at its philosophic end. That’s what we really want to do.
AW: I’ll add that it all goes back to knowing our audience. Maybe two generations ago, when we needed to communicate with a parent about something, we could provide them a handout. We could give them a piece of paper with something on it. The last generation of parents, they don’t want paper. They just want to go online and read it. The current generation of parents don’t even want to go online and read it. They just want to watch a video on it. We’ve evolved how we communicate with parents and technology has definitely helped us do that.
How have these videos and your social media presence impacted patient care and staff productivity?
Our communications director, Chad Hermann, has fielded over 6,000 questions through Facebook and through those e-book-formatted Doctor’s Notes. People now tell us that’s their go-to. Maybe in the 50s, you went to your Dr. Spock book, but now you go to your Kids Plus Doctor’s Notes to look up what you want to find.
We’re actually on our third website. Our second website was really very well received, and was event placed into a textbook on healthcare Web presence. That was only two years ago, but we already trashed that site because it didn’t meet where we felt we needed to be in 2017, 18, and 19. It’s now incredibly searchable. It really fits the mold of the millennial website, as they are much more comfortable with scrolling. You’ll see the links work, and it’s fairly intuitive, but it’s also a lot of resources right at your fingertips.
Let’s talk a little bit about your Ernst and Young journey. What prompted you to enter – and keep entering – and what feedback did you receive after the win? How has that impacted Kids Plus?
AW: We’ve entered the competition three times – 2013, 2014, and 2016. A friend of Todd’s – someone who had nothing to do with healthcare but knew about the innovative things we were doing – convinced us to throw our hat in the ring. We were the only medical people there that first year. When we didn’t win that first year, we came back a second and a third time because we felt that we were doing better at getting our story across. One of the big problems that we had was that we’re not a flashy 3-D printer company. We’re not a multimillion dollar international corporation. We’re just doing outpatient pediatrics, and you can’t get much less glamorous than that.
Each year, we refined our storytelling, and I think finally, after three rounds of practicing at it, we were a little bit more successful in getting our story across as to what we do, what makes us unique, and what makes us innovative and entrepreneurial. That’s what ended up leading to success, I think.
TW: We’re innovating in the very conservative and slow-to-adapt field of healthcare. That part of our story, as Al said, we were really able to put some punch behind it. The other thing is, we were in front of Ernst and Young. This is a company that focuses on your finances. They’re looking at companies that have venture capital money and are looking at 20- and 30-fold growth in a year or two. We said that’s not how medicine works. I think that was one of our proudest moments – seeing the recognition and getting to that national stage with companies that rely on that kind of growth, and seeing that here’s a primary care pediatric practice being recognized for innovation. That was really pretty cool.
What’s next in terms of technology for Kids Plus?
I would say video or virtual engagement. We’ve done a project on that in a research capacity to see how it would fit into our practice. We still are looking for what the right fit is down the road. I know some groups do that. Some big health systems do that, as well. What we do is different. The reason why it’s different is that it’s really driven from the ground up. This is not top-down technology, as in, "Hey, here’s this new system. Here’s how you’re going to use it."
We’re nimble enough and we are, I believe, business-oriented enough to see where the opportunities are and to adapt, as Al pointed out, to what our patients and their parents need and want. What we have is a very ground-up approach. It rests on the notion that it really takes a village to raise a child. We want to be absolutely part of that village – a place to meet, a place to learn together and to really help the entire community grow as we focus on our children and families in the practice.