An update on digital innovation at Providence

Isn’t it amazing to think about how much technology has changed the way we do things? Today, we do so much online, from banking and shopping to downloading music and booking travel online. We can even do our taxes and earn advanced degrees online. The convenience of technology is so ubiquitous these days, consumers expect the same easy access to health care. They no longer want to wait several days to see a doctor or get answers about a medical concern, and they want to be able to comparison shop for the best quality and price.

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There’s so much opportunity to “disrupt” the traditional approach to health care that national retailers, like Walgreen’s and Walmart, and startups, like Zoom Care, are vying to become the new players in our field and are working diligently to deliver services more efficiently and affordably than conventional clinics. To help Providence stay ahead of the curve, we hired Aaron Martin earlier this year as our senior VP of strategy and innovation. As many of you know, Aaron came to Providence by way of Amazon where he helped lead the company’s Kindle and self-publishing divisions.

Recently, I did a video interview with Aaron, so you could get to know him a little and get a glimpse of what he’s been up to the past few months. You’ll hear much more from him in September when we plan to share our overall approach to innovation. In the meantime, I invite you to watch the video to learn about some of the digital products we’re piloting at Providence.

Three highlights from my interview with Aaron

1. Providence Health eXpress

With this new service, patients can see a nurse practitioner or physician online from the comfort of home. It’s offered at an affordable retail price, and individuals can pay by credit card. The service launched in Oregon and Vancouver, Wash., last week and will eventually roll out to other parts of the system

“It’s simple, easy, convenient. And you can do it from a lap top or even a mobile phone,” Aaron says.

2. Small batch innovation

This is a new methodology we’ve embraced that involves taking an ambitious idea and tackling it in small, rapid iterative steps, getting feedback quickly from customers, and improving the product and service at each step. One example is a recent pilot for a new telehospitalist platform that makes it possible for emergency physicians in one location to consult virtually with hospitalists and other specialists at other locations. The system was piloted over an eight-week period between Swedish’s Ballard and Cherry Hill hospitals.

“It’s a good example of taking a big goal, knocking it down into very small pieces and then really working out the details,” Aaron says. “Instead of deploying it across the system all at once, we took a very small focused pilot, solved some major technical problems and made sure the product worked really well. We also sanded off a lot of rough edges. For instance, we looked at very small details, like how long should the extension cord be on the cart.”

3. A wearable device to fight childhood obesity

We recently partnered with a startup called Sqord, which has developed a kid-proof bracelet that tracks physical activity in children, and we’re collaborating with a local school district and insurance company to see if the device makes a difference in fighting obesity among fifth graders.

“It solves a problem for our communities in that kids these days have a lot of competition for their attention, and a lot of it is sedentary. There haven’t been a lot of digital solutions to help reverse the trend,” Aaron says. 


Aaron explains a new wearable technology to help fight childhood obesity, which Providence is co-developing with a company called Sqord.

Mother Joseph: one of the great innovators of her time

I could talk to Aaron for hours about the future of health care. As someone who helped put self-publishing on the map and got publishers to adopt the Kindle, he is a great thinker with refreshing ideas. But what I find most interesting about him is how much he identifies with the Providence Mission and the story of Mother Joseph. I loved something he said the other day, “What Jeff Bezos did to launch Amazon pales in comparison to what Mother Joseph went through to bring health care to the Pacific Northwest. I’m sure Jeff would be the first to say that while founding Amazon was tough, he never had to worry about where his team’s next meal would come from.”

Mark Long

Former Amazonian and NASA engineer Mark Long joined Aaron’s team last week to support our vision around digital innovation.

Aaron has enlisted others who have been successful in the high-tech sector to help us find digital solutions to some of the biggest challenges in health care. Like him, these are individuals who are drawn to our Mission and passionate about using their talents to give back and make a difference. For example, Aaron recently recruited Mark Long, a Stanford and Cal Tech-trained computer software engineer, to support our vision around digital innovation. Mark most recently worked at Amazon, and also spent 12 years of his career in research and development at NASA.

It’s exciting to pair up these great technical minds with those of our physicians, nurses  and other caregivers. Together, I have no doubt that Providence will lead the digital revolution in health care as boldly as Mother Joseph did 158 years ago when she blazed a trail to the West to serve those in need.

  1. Small batch innovation is the best way to test, optimize and hone in on real solutions efficiently and as quickly as possible. A great book about this is called “The Lean Startup” for anyone hungry for more information on this topic. The fundamental principal is to listen to feedback and learn along the way, with an earnest desire for iterative improvement.

    One great learning from Aaron Martin has been to sharpen the hypotheses and see how we can learn and grow from the good and the bad experiments. This is a HUGE shift in the culture of many large healthcare organizations. There’s often the expectation that something has to be 100% perfect before it is launched.
    While, yes we want to strive for excellence and will always have a high bar, sometimes just getting something out there to test and to begin to shape and mold is the only way to make progress.

    I’m so humbled to be a part of Swedish/Providence and am inspired by our great leaders like Aaron Martin, Ralph Pascualy, Chris Dale and more. Thank you everyone for your open mindedness, creativity, and nurturing attitude toward innovation. Our patients will win in the end.

  2. It is absolutely wonderful to have such great leadership and innovation at Providence. I am amazed by the ideas that have been brought into fruition. Technology is definitely integrated into our daily lives. As we face the changing landscape of technology and healthcare policy; telehealth will help us achieve better quality of care, lowered costs and increase access.

    Currently, I am a Master’s of Healthcare Administration student at Pacific University in Oregon working on a thesis on telehealth. It is enlightening to read up on the literature behind digital products. Better yet, it is even more exciting to see it happening within the organization whom I work with! I am proud to be a part of Providence as we head into this new era of healthcare and healthcare reform. Thank you for sharing your innovative vision!

  3. I think the fight against childhood obesity is essential to promoting the well being of the future leaders in our communities. With that being said I would like to throw out an innovative idea of creating a partnership with local gyms and wellness centers to get families more involved in their health goals, choices, and up keeping. I know of a local gym that is upcoming called Training Day Lacey (here in Olympia) that promotes children to work out alongside other children while their parents or guardians are engaging in their own work out regimen. I feel that if a large organization such as Providence can create an incentive for families to be fit together, others will too catch on and follow to help but a dent in childhood obesity.

  4. Love the video and it is terrific to have both Aaron and Mark on our team.

    I had the pleasure of working for Amazon for two years around 1999 and it was awesome. What I liked most was in each meeting or strategy session, we talked about everything that would help our customers and then just made it happen. There wasn’t a meeting that talked about why we couldn’t do something.

    I helped launch the business software store and it seemed like each week, we were able to add enhancements to “ease the way” for customers. Someone even reviewed the null search terms daily to see if there was something a customer couldn’t find and corrected them that day!

    It’s exciting to see this same attitude in many areas of Providence and I know Aaron will help us to keep heading in that direction.

    Another comparison of Amazon and Providence is our leadership and how accessible they are. We need to preserve that. I can remember Jeff Bezos in the cafeteria most days and he has a distinctive laugh. He chatted up everybody he ran into. I see that at many Providence facilities, too. 🙂

    • Susan- so great to meet another former Amazonian! I completely agree with your comment around accessibility. It’s been a great six months here and the team has been very welcoming and have embraced/engaged on the discussions we’ve had around innovation. I’ve been amazed at how quickly the telehealth and digital innovation teams have spun up and shipped these new services. As they say at Amazon- Stay Tuned!

  5. So, what does the sign behind the two of you read in English (the one in the video)?

    • Julie – Great question. It’s meant to be a Chinese interpretation of our Mission. It literally translates as: As people of Providence … “with all hearts and souls working together, Mount Tai can be moved.”

  6. It’s great to have such a wonderful innovator here at Providence. I must say I was surprised to know the he came from Amazon and helped launch their Kindle and self publishing platforms (both of which I absolutely love). Taking health care more into the technological age is helping ease the way for ourselves as caregivers and patients. The idea of being able to see a practitioner without having to take time off is a big plus for me as a single mom. Having that technological advantage not only helps our patients but it also puts us at the forefront regarding the competitive edge. Very nice to know we have a team that is taking Providence as a whole towards that direction. Thank you for the great interview!

    • Brandy- thanks so much for your comments. Agree that making our services easier to access and convenient is absolutely key. I’m really excited about what’s coming down the road on that front!

  7. I enjoyed the interview with Aaron and learning more about him and the new work we’re doing.