A Better Prescription for Patient Care at UVA

Mobile-first approach is the right choice of care to reduce complication rates by 50% and patient stay from 5 to 3 days

The Work

The University of Virginia Health System asked WillowTree to create a personalized mobile experience for their Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) program, with the goal to decrease patient recovery time and save the Hospital thousands in readmission and complication costs.

The Challenge

In order to speed recovery and reduce complication rates, the University of Virginia Health System needed a forward-thinking approach to their patient-centered care. Their original ERAS solution consisted of a large—and overwhelming—binder of information to help educate patients throughout their visit. This binder would often gather dust and it was a clear that the tools to build a better perioperative experience had to be put in the patient’s hands. They needed a mobile-first approach.

The University of Virginia Health System wanted an app that could solve their biggest challenges, such as personalized reminders, wayfinding, and pre- and post-surgery instructions.

The Process

Patients are consumers, and they are coming to expect a digital approach to their healthcare experience.

WillowTree worked closely with the University of Virginia Health System to create a mobile-first approach to their perioperative care. Our Product Strategy group began by engaging patients to evaluate the program’s efficacy and gain a better understanding of patient engagement in the recovery process. By going straight to the source and interviewing patients 48 hours post-surgery, our team was exposed to the real truth of what patients battles post-surgery. We gained deep insight into friction points and opportunities for the ERAS application. We quickly learned that the ERAS binder provided - by the doctors - would gather dust and get lost under mail. Patients were left asking questions like “should I be eating this?” “how do I find my way around the hospital?” and “how do I care for myself post-surgery?”. This insight was crucial to addressing real-life problems. Our team quickly worked this feedback into their designs bringing new features to the forefront of the app, such as: alerting, wayfinding and pared down information specific to each patient and their surgery.

Once the UX strategy and designs were complete, our Android and iOS development teams worked to create a scalable and functional digital health app while maintaining personalized features. The team complied with HIPAA and privacy restrictions by making sure the app did not expose or share private patient information. Our team also considered patients using the application in areas of limited or no connectivity. To accommodate these needs, our developers opted to use push notifications that came from the phone’s operating system and didn’t require any third-party service. Finally, our team built ERAS on a flexible framework so it would have the ability to grow within different departments of the University of Virginia Health System.

The Results

The results of the ERAS app have been extraordinary. Reducing complication rates by roughly 50% is unheard of, but this feat was accomplished by implementing a mobile-first patient engagement and care app. As hospitals continually struggle with improving care and maintaining a revenue, the ERAS app has provided a solution to both. This success of the app is in a large part due to patient adoption. WillowTree worked closely with UVA to solve for specific friction points and we were able to build an app that helps their patients stay engaged, reminded, and educated throughout their entire continuum of care.

  • Overall complication rates fell by roughly 50%
  • Patient stay dropped from 5 to 3 days
  • Re-admission rates fell from 19% to 7%
  • Saved over 11,000 bed-days over 2-year period
We are bringing patient education into the digital age with an ERAS website and a mobile app
—Bethany M. Sarosiek, ERAS Development Coordinator at UVA