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Matt Dickson: “Expanded access”

Expanded access: A large part of how easy it is to get the care you need is dependent on where you live and/or where you were born. Many in the industry thought virtual visits would be the fix here, but COVID-19 has exposed the gaps in access, even with the enhancement of telehealth services. Despite […]

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Expanded access: A large part of how easy it is to get the care you need is dependent on where you live and/or where you were born. Many in the industry thought virtual visits would be the fix here, but COVID-19 has exposed the gaps in access, even with the enhancement of telehealth services. Despite telehealth services being more readily implemented, other hurdles including lack of an internet connection, privacy at home and language barriers all play a role in getting patients the care they need.


As a part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Matt Dickson, Vice President of Product, Strategy, and GM of Stericycle Communication Solutions.

Matt Dickson, Stericycle Communication Solutions’ vice president of product, strategy, and general manager, is a versatile leader with strong operational management experience and expertise providing IT, product, and process solutions in the healthcare industry for nearly 25 years. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and completed a master’s degree in data analytics at Southern New Hampshire University, where he received the Outstanding Student Award for having the highest GPA of graduating students within his major.


Thank you for joining us in this series, Matt. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve been lucky to wear many hats throughout my career, which allows me to see the health tech space through a wide lens. I’ve been involved with myriad aspects of healthcare including operations, strategy, technology, training, hardware and software. Working my way up through various roles has led me to where I am today, and I’m grateful for my rich experiences that inform my outlook.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Soon after I joined the company, part of the business pivoted toward enterprise health, and I had the opportunity to create a dream product team from the ground up. Working collaboratively, we retooled our thinking and began focusing on healthy patients and closing the gaps that prevent people from seeking care. We’re passionate about being a part of the patient journey.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Not so much a mistake on my part, but a funny story, nonetheless. During a discussion early on in my career, I questioned why a recent urgent care facility chose the location it did. To my surprise, the location was selected simply due to the fact that their competition had a location down the street. Not only did this make me chuckle, but also opened my eyes to the industry’s need to turn data in actionable information — something I’ve grown more passionate about over the years.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Stericycle Communication Solutions helps healthcare providers transform and modernize their approach to consumer engagement and experience to attract new patients, improve health outcomes, increase loyalty and lifetime value, and drive revenue throughout the patient journey. We are unique in that we provide both the technology and the human touch to meet the patient engagement needs of healthcare today. Some providers may answer phones but don’t have digital capabilities. We are positioned to handle every interaction along the patient journey, even as patient needs and preferences change, and engagement tools need to be tailored to activate patients to move forward. Our comprehensive patient engagement platform matches patient needs and expectations with communications proven to enhance consumer access and drive the appropriate patient actions. By customizing the right blend of live communication and convenient digital interactions based on patient demographic and clinical information, appointment type, location and provider, Stericycle reduces patient no-shows and readmissions and improves adherence.

What advice would you give to other healthcare leaders to help their team to thrive?

Healthcare leaders often struggle with using available data to create actionable plans that help patients seek treatment, get better or stay well. A strong leadership team with the ability to holistically analyze data across silos and towers is critical, as is ongoing communication and transparency. Looking at data holistically helps to modernize patient engagement and maximize patient outcomes. The key here is bringing people into your organization who can help create actionable plans from data that will benefit the entire healthcare continuum.

According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?

Despite the technologic advancements in healthcare, there are a number of reasons why the US ranking is so low:

  • Obesity is a major problem is the U.S. affecting nearly 40 percent of adults, according to the CDC. Comorbidities as a result of obesity include chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. Healthy eating and regular exercise are unfortunately not priorities for many people, which is causing all sorts of potentially avoidable medical conditions.
  • One in 5 Americans have a mental health issue, which is the №1 predictor of missed appointments. Helping patients get the mental health treatment they need also helps to get them to their important medical appointments and treatments on the schedule their providers set.
  • The no-show rate of patients missing appointments in the U.S. is too high. Patient no-shows drain resources at medical facilities with both realized and unrealized costs that can be minimized and avoided by tailored engagement communications. Not only do no-shows drain physician resources, patient health is also impacted. In the United Kingdom for example, the no-show rate is low because it’s much harder to re-enter the provider schedule, so patients don’t risk losing their slot.

If you had the power to make a change, can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.

There’s always room for improvement in any endeavor, and healthcare is no different, particularly with new technologies and solutions being innovated at a rapid pace. The five changes I see to be the most beneficial to patients and providers are:

  1. Expanded access: A large part of how easy it is to get the care you need is dependent on where you live and/or where you were born. Many in the industry thought virtual visits would be the fix here, but COVID-19 has exposed the gaps in access, even with the enhancement of telehealth services. Despite telehealth services being more readily implemented, other hurdles including lack of an internet connection, privacy at home and language barriers all play a role in getting patients the care they need.
  2. Reimbursement: With new technologies comes new payment methodologies. For example, the rise of wide-spread virtual health appointments impacted health insurers’ financial models, but frameworks for reimbursement are still fragile and under development. COVID-19 has shined a brighter light on reimbursement, particularly when it comes to telehealth and digital mental health, but there is still a long way to go.
  3. Enhance education: Despite wider access to resources, health literacy remains a large problem in the U.S. The CDC defines health literacy as the degree to which an individual has the capacity to obtain, communicate, process, and understand basic health information and services to make appropriate health decisions. A lack of health literacy often has the worst effect on those with chronic conditions. Despite programs being developed to help with specific conditions, the worst outcomes often correlate to those with poor health literacy, further highlighting the importance of education.
  4. Prescriptive communications: Communications between provider and patient are often non-existent or too broad, lacking actionable next steps. Prescriptive communications, where providers detail treatment plans in a communication method that’s most likely to induce action. For example, when the global recommendation to social distance in response to COVID-19 was first shared, the general public may not have understood what that meant in terms of doctor visits and treatments. But tailored communications from providers about office protocols such as mask wearing and temperature checks, communicated in a digital or human channel that patients engage with, instill confidence and give people the knowledge they need to feel comfortable and involved in their healthcare.
  5. Better partnerships: Stronger partnerships between patients, providers and communities is key, particularly when it comes to sharing resources for those affected by socioeconomic factors. For example, healthy eating habits can be challenging for those who may not have access to fresh groceries or be motivated to learn proper health literacy. Partnerships between health providers and community resources such as classes, food banks and shopping programs help forge the path toward improved overall health.

What concrete steps would have to be done to actually manifest these changes? What can a) individuals, b) corporations, c) communities and d) leaders do to help?

Large-scale, systematic change is only possible through increased access to education and resources such as broader insurance coverage, stronger communication between patients and providers, and expanded and reliable internet and technology access. The health of Americans depends on strong infrastructure that incorporates both human interaction and technological advancements, starting at the grassroots level all the way through our leaders in Washington.

As a mental health professional myself, I’m particularly interested in the interplay between the general healthcare system and the mental health system. Right now we have two parallel tracks mental/behavioral health and general health. What are your thoughts about this status quo? What would you suggest to improve this?

There is a shortage of mental health providers in the U.S., which is particularly concerning during COVID-19, when many people are struggling with new and exacerbated mental health concerns. While 1 in 5 Americans struggle with a mental health issue, the average of 30 psychologists per 100,000 people and 15.6 psychiatrists per 100,000 people is very concerning. People need help and support, and the healthcare industry needs to overcome stigma and access issues to improve patient outcomes. Primary care doctors in particular are often first line providers who are managing multiple patient conditions, and there’s a tremendous opportunity to take the time to make sure patients are getting the care they need to succeed. Conversations about the importance of not missing appointments, for example, are part of the road to health literacy and health accountability.

How would you define an “excellent healthcare provider”?

An excellent healthcare provider is someone who takes all factors of an individual into consideration including both mental and physical health, and who is keenly aware of a patient’s challenges with social determinants of healthcare or other barriers to care. Most importantly, a provider should actively help patients overcome these barriers.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Thomas Jefferson’s quote, “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock,” has always resonated with me. I believe his words teach us that there is a time and a place to take a stand and that we must not be rigid in our approach to opinions and beliefs that don’t always match our own.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am most excited by what Stericycle Communication Solutions is doing in the patient activation space. We are working toward an entirely new approach at how we determine the best way to reach people not only where they are at but in ways that influence them to engage in behaviors that most directly impact healthy outcomes. By blending our technology with our people, we believe our solution will enable new levels of engagement and patient activation.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?

I find that I tend to think about the problems vexing healthcare through many lenses: technology, behavioral psychology, marketing, machine learning and AI. Because of this I tend to find sites that aggregate stories across many disciplines the most useful to me. Primary among those is Medium, and right now, I am following topics such as data science, machine learning, psychology, neuroscience, AI, technology, UX, and mental health. By following a wide breadth of topics and then doing deep dives on the articles that spark the most interest I find that it generates ideas about solving problems from many angles and then allows me to follow that topic deeper down the rabbit hole if needed.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I continue to believe that greater access to mental health care is an important step in improving the lives of many people grappling with issues that impact not only their health but their ability to live productive and fulfilled lives. I would love to see a movement that destigmatizes those that seek mental health care and provides the means for anyone who needs this critical care to be able to obtain it.

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