COVID vs. Texas: Micro-Interview with Austin Regional Clinic's Heidi Shalev
We are thrilled to have Heidi Shalev, VP Marketing, Communications & Engagement at Austin Regional Clinic, for our second installment of our new micro-interview* series with some of America's leading experts in the fields of real estate, healthcare, government, and more.
*A micro-interview, as the name would suggest, is a new, shorter, more concise form of an interview, born of and designed for the TL;DR age.
Heidi Shalev oversees the Marketing and Customer Service teams supporting all areas of Austin Regional Clinic. She is responsible for brand management, strategic marketing, communications, referral and community relations, and patient engagement for the company's 30 clinics in 12 Central Texas cities. She is a 19-year veteran of ARC, with a strong background in marketing and communications, and is a member of the ARC Administrative Leadership Team.
Thanks for joining us, Heidi.
Could you tell us a little about what your role as VP Marketing, Communications & Engagement entails?
As Austin Regional Clinic's VP of Marketing, Communications, and Engagement, I oversee operations for marketing, advertising, media relations, community relations, referral relations, and customer support for our information line, patient portal, and telemedicine subscription app. I also lead the rollout of new functionality on our digital platforms, including the website and patient portal.
What are some of the unique challenges ARC has been facing since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in Texas?
PPE and COVID tests: Our Purchasing Department was able to source adequate supplies of masks, gowns, wipes, hand sanitizer, COVID testing swabs that we sent to local labs, and eventually COVID tests so we could do all testing-house and provide results within 24-48 hours for the more accurate PCR tests.
Health & safety standards: We implemented new health & safety protocols through all clinics and administrative buildings within days. We installed clear shields at all check-in areas, distributed additional cleaning and sanitizing materials, required masks of everyone, and set up many staff members from the clinics and administration to work from home.
Drive-up testing: Within 24 hours, we piloted a drive-up testing solution and within days were running six drive-up testing locations throughout a wide geographic area, and included evening and weekend hours.
Telemedicine: We switched to telemedicine visits for the majority of our patients – with 70% - 80% of our visits March-May being telemedicine. Patients continue to appreciate the telemedicine option, with 20-40% of patients still choosing telemedicine over coming into the clinic. It has proven to be a popular option for every age group.
Vaccine: We were one of the first healthcare providers in the Austin Metro Area to receive vaccine on December 23rd and were able to vaccinate 1,000 people a day and not waste a drop of vaccine, even during the winter holidays when many people were on vacation. Overall we had vaccinated over 8,000 people in the first two priority groups in Texas before the state changed the distribution system to large state hubs. We continue to request more vaccines and recently received an additional 7,000 doses, including Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, all of which went to a prioritized list of patients and community members.
Communications: Throughout the pandemic, we increased communication for leadership, physicians, staff, patients, and all media with positive feedback from patients, doctors, and staff and increased media exposure locally and nationally.
What are some of ARC's accomplishments in fighting COVID-19 so far?
- Implemented new clinic workflows and policies that avoided Covid breakouts in our clinics and maintained the trust and confidence of our patients, doctors, and staff.
- Pivoted quickly to telemedicine in all primary and specialty departments.
- Kept all of our clinics open, including after-hours services.
- Implemented drive-up testing for COVID-19 and later drive-up flu shots to make it easier and safer for patients, doctors, and staff.
- Implemented new COVID AI tools on our website, Covid FAQ chatbot, and health advice, both of which were highly utilized throughout the year.
- Moved over 500 people to work from home in a matter of days. We are now making it a permanent change for many staff members.
- Helped employees with childcare through an employee benefit that pays for some childcare throughout the year.
- Avoided large-scale lay-offs through voluntary furloughs.
Has the crisis expedited digital transformation for ARC as a whole? Are there initiatives you've rolled out that would have otherwise remained unexplored? How have patients reacted to these initiatives?
Telemedicine: We had rolled it out for two doctors, and it was rarely, if ever, used. The circumstances around the pandemic forced all of our doctors and patients to embrace the technology, and many who originally were critical of it grew to appreciate it and even recognize the medical value of incorporating it into their practice.
Chatbot: We had been exploring adding a chatbot to our website, and thanks to Hyro and Mediktor were able to sample the technology at no cost initially. The high patient usage of the chatbot convinced us it is a technology we need to expand to our whole website, including our scheduling functions.
Communications: Expanded use of instant messaging between doctors and staff and increased texting important alerts to staff and patients.
What has been the biggest lesson in your career so far? Is there one insight you carry with you at all times?
Build confidence and trust in the following ways:
Communicate your successes well – nobody knows unless you tell them.
Take responsibility for mistakes and learn from them.
Ask about things you don't know about. Wanting to learn is appreciated.
Lastly, what's the best book/film/tv show/podcast/recipe (choose one or more!) you've discovered during these long months of staying home and socially distancing?
Book: Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Outdoors: The previously undiscovered walking path in my neighborhood
Family Zoom calls: New tradition of weekly calls with mom and sisters
Café: Alta's Café on the banks of Lady Bird Lake in Austin – outdoor seating with a beautiful view of the lake and the city