Dear #Slack

Exciting news! Congratulations on your recent announcement. We’re genuinely excited to have you join Seniorlink as we work to help care teams to collaborate around complex, costly patients.

We realized about five years ago that communication and collaboration features that Slack and others were providing (mostly to tech teams) were desperately needed in healthcare. What could be more important than enabling care teams to work more collaboratively in coordinating / delivering care for patients? 

Our five-year journey has taught us that collaboration in healthcare is harder than it looks. So, as you set out to build “Slack for Healthcare,” we thought we could you some friendly advice. We should all be collaborating in the name of better healthcare, shouldn’t we?

First, and most importantly, it’s about tech enabled services. A collaboration platform by itself has little value in healthcare. The right platform must be paired with actual humans. Yes, that is right, people in the form of coaches, care managers, care coordinators and other care team members. From our perspective, no amount of ‘Slack-bot’ integration will suffice in healthcare. In fact, we’ve shown that the combination of automated and human expert response is the key when working with patients.

Care teams are dynamic organisms, with patients coming and going, each playing a unique role in the support of coordinating/ delivering care to complex patients. Healthcare will view “channels” as too technical a concept and the notion of individual users chatting homogeneously will be seen as too simplistic. Each care team member (user) has a role, with very specific privileges and each must have a user experience that reflects his or her permissions and interactions with others in the collaboration environment. The nurse case manager, for example, cannot perform her responsibilities with the same user experience as a patient or family member. Different roles/permissions imply a deep commitment to partner/ user administration. Likewise, healthcare is about managing caseloads, with the ability to identify emerging trends that will impact cost and quality. A successful collaboration environment requires deep understanding in each of these important areas.

Second, healthcare is about trust and that complicates customer acquisition. You are correct that payers and policy makers want HIPAA compliant technology solutions. Interestingly, patients and their families are perfectly happy using text messaging to communicate with each other. What’s valuable to patients and their caregivers is the ability to easily communicate with their healthcare professionals and that’s only possible if each, with permissions assigned, are in the present in the collaboration environment. Getting healthcare professionals to engage in online collaboration is not about a ‘freemium’ on-ramp experience; that approach is unlikely to be trusted.

Healthcare professionals will not join in the collaboration unless their organization is in control of processes, onboarding, protocols, administration, data collection and analysis. As such, the essential ingredients of collaboration must be seamlessly captured in the clinical system of record. This requirement doesn’t lend itself to a turnkey solution, especially since industry-wide standards for integration are lacking. It is the healthcare customer that determines which patients in a case load get additional attention. Put simply, collaboration in and of itself is insufficient. You must prove that any collaboration results in a meaningful ROI or your solution will not move out of pilot.

Third, these are not the users you are accustomed to. This isn’t San Francisco or Boston, where users are hip, technically savvy users wearing Fitbits, watching reruns of ‘Big Bang Theory’. The patients and care managers using online collaboration are often non-techie, rural users who are accustomed to minimalistic interfaces and low-bandwidth connectivity. This is an entirely different user base, one which will require you to cut them a lot of slack (pun intended, of course)!

We’ve been vigilant regarding design choices for our care collaboration app called Vela. We needed Vela to be easy to use for seniors, for those with disabilities as well as their caregivers (ages 18 all the way up to age 82), people with flip-phones rather than flip-flops. You will undoubtedly find that healthcare is full of low-income users that rarely have access to Wifi; and overwhelmed and stressed caregivers who work full time, are taking care of parents and simultaneously managing their own families! At the other end, those healthcare professionals who are managing a hundred or more patients and their caregivers, need a very different user experience, one designed with the professional in mind, an experience with efficiency as its foundation. In sum, collaboration in healthcare cannot be “one size fits all”.

One final point: You’ve heard that all healthcare is local; well it’s also very personal. It’s not about technology or cool UX, it’s about connecting healthcare professionals effectively with patients and their caregivers.This is much harder to achieve than it looks, it’s about building trust, it’s about empathy, it’s about care.

So welcome, #Slack, to the revolution. We’re glad you’ve arrived to help us validate this product category in this vital channel. We’ve been patiently waiting for your arrival. Let’s go!

Your friends at Seniorlink, creators of the first care collaboration app in healthcare, Vela