A Conversation with Patrick Hale, CIO of VITAS Healthcare

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, healthcare organizations everywhere were forced to quickly adapt—shifting workflows at light speed to meet evolving demands. The pandemic created a tipping point: A full 89% of healthcare leaders are accelerating their digital transformation according to a recent MIT Technology Review study. Patrick Hale, CIO of VITAS Healthcare, is one trailblazer that’s heavily investing in technology to transform the care process.

With roots going back to 1976, VITAS Healthcare was one of the nation’s first hospice care providers. In the early 1980s, the company led the successful, bipartisan effort to add end-of-life care to Medicare coverage. Still a pioneer over four decades later, VITAS was awarded the coveted Process Excellence Network Award (PEX) for its iMobility project—led by Patrick and his team—which helped improve the hospice transition experience by putting mobile solutions into the hands of more than 8,000 VITAS clinicians. Patrick was also named CIO of the Year by the South Florida Business Journal.

That dedication to technological leadership proved vital when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) instituted a new rule requiring hospices to provide—upon request—Medicare beneficiaries with a written statement describing the conditions, items, services or drugs that are not covered by the hospice benefit. To comply with this new rule, VITAS had less than 90 days to design a touch-free way to capture the signatures of patients who opted in to receive the document. With Docusign’s support, VITAS deployed a solution well ahead of target.

We talked to the award-winning CIO about how VITAS has leaned on technology, including Docusign, to maintain compliance—while building lasting efficiencies—in the new landscape.

Tell us more about the VITAS mission.

PH: We’re one of the nation’s largest hospice providers. We deal with people who are at end of life...so there’s a huge sense of urgency in our business. Our job is to get them home, stabilize their pain and make sure that every moment that’s left can be lived to the fullest.

When it comes to the patient experience, what KPIs are most important to you?

PH: Speed to bedside is one: How quickly can we get the patient home. We look at a first call resolution: Were we able to get somebody there the same day that we heard about the need? This has never been harder than it has been during COVID.

How does digitization help improve speed to bedside and ease the transition from hospital to hospice care?

PH: As healthcare CIOs, one of our big jobs is to unwind the current maze that we have and build a better way and simpler ecosystem. And it all starts with digitization. Transitions of care are some of the most problematic areas in healthcare. We believe we can make it much more efficient than it is today—and we see so much utility in technology like Docusign. Sometimes we have very limited interaction with the patient, so to the extent that we can create a legally binding digital experience that can shave hours or days off this process means a lot when your patients have just weeks to live.

Beyond speed, what other benefits did you gain by using Docusign for this newly required element of your admissions process?

PH: Visibility. We were implementing a very significant process change where suddenly anyone associated with the patient can request the specifics of the services we’re providing. Because we’re using Docusign, we know how many people are actually requesting the document—and have a digital record to prove we’re compliant. Although we were forced into it under duress and really unrealistic time frames, we found a solution that meets all of the requirements and includes an automated workflow that doesn’t require human intervention. Super exciting.

You implemented a new solution in just 60 days. What was your experience like working with Docusign Customer Success?

PH: In IT, we hear a lot of very aggressive timeframes that we know aren’t going to be anywhere close to what’s being promised, but the Docusign team never faltered. That’s rare. We are looking forward to a long, successful future—leveraging Docusign to help transform a care process that is still—even with the advent of EMRs—rife with sign-offs and incredibly manual. Digitizing those processes is something that we’re really excited about.

What’s next? How does Docusign fit into your vision for the future?

PH: Consents are the next phase of our Docusign evolution to improve the patient experience. Our long-term brand vision is to be the Easy Button. So, if you need hospice, we're going to be the easiest hospice to connect to; we're going to be the fastest hospice to the bedside, and we're going to be the most effective when we get to the bedside.

Read more about how the nation’s largest hospice care provider met a tight regulatory deadline for signature capture while extending its lead as a digital pioneer in healthcare.