Digital Transformation in Healthcare: 3M’s Dr. Travis Bias On How Medical Practices Can Use Digital Transformation To Provide Better Care
An Interview With David McNeil
Strong leadership. Setting clear expectations for staff and ensuring the staff is on board with the practice’s mission, and held accountable by its leaders, is key to operations that deliver on the practice’s promise to its patients.
As a part of our series “Medical Practices Can Use Digital Transformation to Provide Better Care,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Travis Bias.
Travis Bias, DO, MPH, DTM&H, FAAFP, is a family medicine physician and chief medical officer of clinician solutions team in 3M’s Health Information Systems Division. He has practice experience in employer-based and private settings, including most recently in the telemedicine space. Dr. Bias previously taught medicine in Kenya and Uganda, and as a lecturer in the Milken Institute School of Public Health on Comparative Global Health Systems and Global Health Diplomacy. These experiences inform his advocacy for stronger health systems as a member of his local medical society, formerly a Trustee with the Texas Medical Association, and as a member of the San Francisco Committee of Human Rights Watch.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
After practicing in several different health care settings as a primary care physician, it was clear to me our system was broken. 3M gave me the opportunity to impact our health system on a broader scale, first in a clinical operations consulting role, and now as the chief medical officer of our clinician solutions team, which includes our M*Modal solutions. The last decade has built a deep appreciation for how profoundly cultural factors — both geographic and organizational — drive the implementation of evidence-based, or new, practices, including new technologies.
Can you share the most interesting or most exciting story that has happened to you since you began at your company?
One of my favorite things to do is to bring people together to form a strong team or to tell a story. And one of my proudest professional achievements was completing a diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, completed over three months in 2014 in Tanzania and Uganda. I made some close friends during this course, and just a few months ago I got to interview three of them — all doctors based in Sydney — as part of a Talking HealthTech Autumn Summit panel. So, my personal world and my professional world — strengthening health systems through the use of technology — came together to highlight opportunity areas for the Australian health care system.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Then, can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In my first formal leadership role, I hired a physician for a role after the interview went very well. After their first day on the job, my entire staff made it very clear to me that it was unanimous: this person would not be a good fit for our team. Within a few weeks that physician was not invited back to work with us. It was a slight blow to my observation skills as I thought the physicians’ credentials looked great on paper and the interview had gone well in my eyes. This definitely taught me to listen to my team and to involve them in as much decision-making as possible, as early as possible. It was a clear example of how a team succeeds best when their opinions are heard and acted upon. Not sure how funny this is, but it was a definite surprise at that point in my young career.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Admitting when I’m wrong. Science is about constantly learning. If we cannot admit to our mistakes, then we can’t grow. See my example from the question before.
- Clear communication. Basic communication, and how it is delivered (your tone, your volume, the setting, the medium), can shape how a message is received, and it can make or break a team or a relationship. There are a few co-workers in my past who I simply did not get along with. I asked for feedback — which didn’t always feel great — and I offered feedback. Growing up in Texas, I’ve been told my style was “too diplomatic,” so I have worked on being more direct, yet still being respectful and constructive. This is something I always saw as a strength, and thus something I enjoy working on growing.
- Empathy. Being a primary care physician, I learned quickly I had to understand each patient’s motivators before I could advise them on the best treatment course. If I wanted them to do something, I had to get them to WANT to do that thing. I learned this from reading Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” in my first year of residency, and it has shaped how I interact with patients and now with colleagues.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
At 3M Health Information Systems, we are currently working to build out the future of ambient clinical documentation. The goal is this: the physician walks into the exam room, focuses on their patient the entire time, building those human connections that patients crave and that make our work more rewarding. The technology augments their interaction, whether that technology is explicitly directed or even implicitly requested to do so. And the clinical document becomes a byproduct of the entire encounter.
This ideally will free up physicians’ attention to focus on the patient in front of them and free up physicians’ time to focus on more complex patient cases, more proactively caring for their population, or simply enjoying themselves outside of work! This is a fun opportunity for me to use my clinical experience to help shape the direction of our solutions, working with a strong and diverse team of product owners, user experience designers, and software engineers to create products that improve physicians’ efficiency and simply make their workday easier. And this will ideally simultaneously improve patients’ experiences in the physician office as well.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about digital transformation in health care. I am particularly passionate about this topic because my work focuses on how practices can streamline processes to better serve their patients.
For the benefit of our readers, can you help explain what exactly digital transformation means? On a practical level what does it look like for a medical practice to engage in a digital transformation?
I think digital transformation means many things to many people, but in medicine, I believe this entails the adoption of the latest technological and digital health tools to strengthen health care delivery for populations. Organizations are at various points along their transformation journey, as technology can improve efficiencies across a wide range of health care delivery (and payment!) points. So, from engaging patients through a more consumer-friendly “digital front door” to improving care delivery operations through a virtual back office, to streamlining billing practices, there is an enormous number of checkpoints throughout health care interactions that can benefit from a variety of digital tools out there.
From incumbents to start-ups, there are many tools to choose from, so what I hear from our provider organization partners is that some of their major challenges involve picking the best solution for each of the problems they are currently trying to solve, while also trying to partner with vendors that can provide a single platform to address them all. Anyone who has worked in health care knows just how many opportunities there are for technology to help streamline process, or help automate redundant tasks, to ensure their human workforce can work as creatively, strategically and productively as possible.
What are the specific pain points that digital transformation can help address in a medical practice?
I think the goal ought to be leveraging technology to automate what we can — repetitive tasks, or really anything natural language processing or artificial intelligence will allow — to free up health workers to spend more time, higher-level thought and attention on addressing complex patient care-related problems.
For example, if my clinical documentation can be created quicker with front-end speech recognition — both through dictation and by using commands to navigate around the electronic health record (EHR) — then that ideally creates time and space for me to care for the new elderly patient with multiple medical problems that comes to me with a problem she’s had for years that no one else has been able to solve. It frees up more time for me to dig into her medical history and her past records to get to the single underlying cause of her issue.
What are the obstacles that prevent a medical practice from engaging in a digital transformation?
Several factors. First, I have to say culture. Some cultures are simply ones of continuous improvement and innovation, in search of delivering more efficient care and a better clinician and patient experience. Those tend to be more open to deploying new tech tools. Without an openness to change and adoption of new technologies, it’s challenging to push past this towards the other potential implementation challenges. Second, the up-front costs can be expensive. Of course, most of these have a demonstrable return-on-investment, both tangible, in the form of time and money, and intangible, reflected in a less stressful physician experience and an encounter that’s more responsive to patients’ needs. Lastly, sorting through all of the potential tools out there can be a challenge. Not sure there is much to do to address this beyond building out a strong informatics team, with influential leaders such as chief medical and nursing informatics officers at the helm, to help identify the solutions that fit their organization best.
Managing a health care facility is more challenging than it has ever been. Based on your experience or research, can you please share with our readers a few examples of how digital transformation can help a medical practice to provide better care? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
Much of the value derived from primary care comes from the longitudinal relationship between the physician and patient. Over time, rapport is built, and the conversation can quickly lead to the root cause of any medical issue. Now, with better digital tools to support more frequent communication between visits, we do not have make a final decision during the visit. Instead, I can say “let’s continue to watch this; message me in a few days if you are not better, or sooner if you are getting worse.” And the patient knows they can get ahold of me.
This allows the disease process to run its course — to “declare itself,” as we’re taught in medical school — which then ensures the diagnostic decision is based on as much information as possible and the treatment course prescribed is as targeted as possible. So, due to more frequent and reliable communication after the patient has left the office, we can use “time as its own diagnostic tool,” as my colleague, Dr. Matt Sakumoto says.
Can you share a few examples of how digital interactions or digital intake processes can help create a frictionless patient experience and increase access for patients?
Previously, patients would have to take a day off work, arrive at the doctors’ office 15 minutes early, fill out a stack of papers, and then wait to see their physician. Now, many practices have digitized that “intake paperwork,” allowing patients to complete this at their own pace, and even gather other necessary prior documents, to ensure patients’ interactions with their physicians are more productive starting with the first meeting.
In the telemedicine world, the patient doesn’t need to talk a half-day off work, but instead they simply need to find a quiet place at home or work at the time of their appointment. And the telemedicine “waiting room” can be in the comfort of the patient’s home or car. I found when practicing telemedicine, I’m much more likely to stay on-time as I can manage the flow of asynchronous communication and potential interruptions better from my laptop. Obviously, starting a 4 p.m. appointment right at 4 p.m. is a huge patient pleaser! The patient experience is much more frictionless and enjoyable, and results in less absenteeism (or presenteeism). This digitally enabled interaction is what patients have come to expect from health care in 2022, since they experience it in other sectors.
Based on your opinion and experience, what are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Effective Medical Practice” and why.
- Efficient communication tools. Both to communicate electronically with patients and to communicate between team members in the practice.
- Work-life balance. If staff need a break, give it to them. If they are burning out and it is left unaddressed, no one wins, as it can impact other team members and patients.
- Responsiveness to patients. By setting clear expectations with patients, regarding everything from the practice’s intended actions (timely communication and after-hours availability) to the patient’s actions (arriving on time for appointments and respecting clinic policies, like wearing a mask if sick), and delivering on those promises, the practice will perform well and patients can thrive.
- Strong leadership. Setting clear expectations for staff and ensuring the staff is on board with the practice’s mission, and held accountable by its leaders, is key to operations that deliver on the practice’s promise to its patients.
- Strong electronic health record. One that enables all the documentation and care your specialty needs to provide. No more, no less. And one that enables population health data mining to support reporting the high quality of care you are performing.
Because of your role, you are a person of significant influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your ideas can trigger.
I would love to see every person on the planet who wants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to get vaccinated in the next six months. It sounds quite simple, but there are many barriers to this. We’ve sent humans into space. We even created the first vaccine within a year, which is remarkable. Now, we can end a once-in-a-century pandemic (for all of us) if we simply deploy vaccines globally. That would save lives, prevent even worse economic damage, and speed up the global economic recovery.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was truly meaningful. Thank you so much for your time and for sharing your expertise!
About The Interviewer: David McNeil is the President of PatientPop, a Tebra company, a market leader in practice growth technology. McNeil is highly committed to helping the company build a modern go-to-market organization that delivers great value to practices in a time of rapid change in healthcare. McNeil’s business insights have been featured in publications such as Medical Economics and Los Angeles Business Journal.