Digital Innovation

Thoughts from our New Chief Digital Officer – Sara Vaezy

April 18, 2022  |  Providence Digital Innovation Group

After 6 years at Providence, Sara Vaezy has stepped into the role of Chief Digital Officer leading Providence’s Digital Innovation Group (DIG). We sat down with her to talk about the future she wants to create and her view of digital both inside and outside Providence.

Q: You’ve played a key role in architecting Providence’s digital strategy over the past few years, what’s your focus now?  

Over the years, DIG has implemented many of the necessary building blocks to serve our communities and succeed in a highly competitive digital-first, consumer-centric world. We have established uniform platforms across web and mobile, as well as for consumer data and identity. We have digitized many of our endpoints and created APIs to connect the system to the broader technology ecosystem. We are in the process of building an engagement and navigation stack to drive consumer and patient retention and stickiness.

The next phase is a focus on connecting the different components of our organization and tech stack to fully realize the transformational potential of digital within healthcare. DIG is a key mechanism for driving growth within the overall enterprise—through new customer acquisition, increased retention, LTV capture by enabling existing products and services, and creating new tech enabled products and services. Formalizing digital as an organizational value driver within Providence rather than as purely technology infrastructure will allow us to work hand-in-hand with our operating partners throughout Providence to drive enablement, and in some cases self-disruption, of our overall operating model rather than simply layering on a digital veneer.

Q: The platforms you’ve helped architect have strengthened Providence’s capabilities. How do you see DIG extending its impact across the industry?

I am humbled and consider it a tremendous honor to be entrusted with leading Digital at one of the most progressive IDNs in the country. I know it’s a major undertaking, but after 2+ years and wave-after-wave of COVID, we need digital more than ever. Health systems are dealing with unprecedented challenges and yet we remain steadfast in our mission to continue serving our communities.

Digital is the mechanism by which we can deliver high-value care at scale. We do this by enabling self-service, by co-developing new digitally enabled business and care/operating models—and we do this in a way that better serves our communities and caregivers.

Our incubation approach here at DIG has resulted in three remarkable companies to date. I’m looking to accelerate our incubation efforts, and double down on our intentional approach to bringing innovative technology products to market. By strengthening our approach to partnerships with other health systems and technology partners we’ll formalize the ways in which we drive collective focus on digital innovation, co-development and financing of innovation, and shared approaches to taking products to market. Imagine a world in which we can create the foundational underpinnings and platform for healthcare upon which all health systems can build their consumer digital engagement experiences. Providence can be a driver of this movement.

Q: What are your criteria for success?

We need to demonstrate that we are delivering strategic value to the health system through the solutions we create. Many digital solutions are gaining a lot of hype, but there’s not clarity around the value they are actually delivering. At the highest level, we are measuring value in terms of the growth we generate and our ability to get customers to transact and engage with us digitally. We need to think about innovation value from a P&L perspective. I’m working on models that formalize that idea within a health system.

As an example, if I look at the spinout of DexCare, it’s critical in solving a big and very real challenge for health systems: load balancing and driving new customer growth. Today, Providence as well as 12 other health systems across the country can quantify the value they’ve delivered. At Providence alone, 30% of the patients that are brought in through our DexCare enabled service line are net new patients to the health system. DexCare has also raised over $70MM in one year, so investors also recognize the value of the solution.  We want to continue to build, buy or partner with solutions that contribute to delivering high-value care.

Q: How do you uncover those opportunities or decide which ones to bet on?

Our Strategy & Commercialization team builds and supports the relationships we have with stakeholders across the industry including our partnerships with over 150 health system digital innovation teams, venture capital organizations, industry analysts and influencers, and digital health organizations. They advise and drive prioritization of the digital market and the solutions with the potential to help us transform healthcare, enabling us to take some of our biggest ideas to market as stand-alone companies. This team is continuing to develop and support an expanded set of commercialization approaches to broaden the criteria and increase the speed of market delivery. They’ll continue to be critical to helping us ensure value.

Q: Practically, how will you start to tackle some of these huge areas of opportunity?  

Under the direction of our SVP of Product and Technology, Andy Chu, we will continue to innovate, test, learn and prove the value of solutions within Providence—and health systems in general—delivering on our vision of health for a better world. With Providence, one of world’s largest IDNs as ‘first customer’, we have a unique environment and opportunity to create solutions that transform how health care works. We’ve successfully commercialized three of these valuable solutions (Circle by Wildflower Health, Xealth, and DexCare) and have other transformational solutions in the pipeline. You’ll see us focused on health system enabling solutions that leverage the insight we have about our patients, combined with our unique operational connectivity to the health system, to deliver contextually relevant content, products, and services that drive engagement.

Q: A big part of recovery for health systems will come from new customer acquisition and deepened engagement with patients – or retention. In a world of new entrants. How are you readying Providence to do that?

Under the direction of our Chief Marketing and Digital Experience Officer, Shweta Ponnappa, we are going to be focused on value through volume recovery and growth while creating world-class digital experiences that support search and ecommerce. Shweta brings decades of omni-channel marketing experience. She’s as obsessed with customer-centricity as she is with data and that combination will allow us to bring the best practices of top-tier e-Commerce organizations to healthcare. Under her leadership, we’ve already driven 35% YOY traffic increases to Providence digital properties and the organizational shifts we’ve put in place will be a great supporter of our broader enterprise strategy.

Q: As you step into this role, if there was one area of innovation for you to bring focus around, what would it be?

One of the greatest needs for innovation in health care continues to be consumer-centric, tech-enabled services. While there are plenty of independent solutions being developed, many are irrelevant to health systems. Because the vast majority of healthcare in the US is delivered by health systems and hospitals that are operating under extremely complicated systems, we must make these systems, and the technologies that enable them, work for people. Independent solutions are also fine, but health systems and hospitals aren’t going away and they need to be either enabled or self-disrupted to better serve the needs of their consumers and patients.

Through the combination of our strategy, product innovation, digital experience, marketing, and commercialization efforts, our organization is committed to digital transformation that plays a critical role in creating what health care looks like in the future.

For more research, analysis, and perspectives from the Providence Digital Innovation Group, visit our Resource Center