Daryl Tol believes healthcare is on the cusp of a digital transformation. As President and CEO of AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division, he’s making big bets on the future of AI and machine learning at the company’s Orlando operations.

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When it comes to tech adoption, healthcare is “just ahead of hunting and agriculture,” jokes Daryl Tol, president and CEO of AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division. But he is only half-kidding. “It’s a very long process that’s finally hit us. We’re well behind other industries.”

But Tol believes healthcare is poised to catch up and that AdventHealth, a faith-based, not-for-profit healthcare system in Orlando, will be a leader in the industry’s digital transformation. For starters, AdventHealth is investing in AI and machine learning technology to allow physicians and other staff to treat patients in a more targeted and holistic way, and gives patients more control over their medical care.

As Tol explains in the following interview, for a company seeking competitive advantage through digital transformation, it helps to be based within Orlando’s ecosystem of tech companies and startups doing advanced R&D. AdventHealth also benefits from proximity to higher learning centers, such as the University of Central Florida, that generates a large pool of highly skilled talent. That Orlando is one of the largest tourist destinations in the world doesn’t hurt, either. “It’s a natural draw,” he says. “Our ability to develop destination medicine and training programs is phenomenal.”

What was behind your recent rebranding from Florida Hospital to AdventHealth—and why now?

There were two reasons for the change – one, we’ve been a significant national company for decades but have branded all of our entities around the country under a local brand. We wanted to bring everything together with one brand promise and one approach to care for consumers.

We’re also at a pivot point in healthcare, a major time of transformation. The word “advent” means the coming of something of great significance. We think it’s a perfect signal—it combines our faith background and advent as a word about personal transformation and wholeness, and individuals, helping people thrive. But it also signals that as a national company we intend to be part of the transformation of healthcare.

In preparation for the launch of this system-wide brand, the company spent months working on culture and solidifying a consumer-centric approach to patient care. What cultural changes have you made?

We know that our team is where everything happens. We’ve invested a lot in our team and we’ve spent a lot of time together on something called “the whole care experience,” which is focused on our service standards, which are 1) keep me safe 2) love me 3) make it simple and 4) own the problem.

We’ve really worked with our team on those four concepts and how important those are to consumers based on the focus groups and insight we’ve gotten. Those concepts demand that we approach consumers with a certain kind of individual, high touch care.

What are some of the new technologies in the industry that are having the greatest impact on how your business operates? 

I’ll touch on several, but they won’t be comprehensive because it’s an era of technology and we find so many opportunities. First, consumers want to be able to do as much as they can on their own. They want an app that allows them to self-schedule, video chat with a doctor, text a doctor, nurse or pharmacist, keep track of their care plan, access health records. The technology is a mobile health platform that allows consumers to connect, all day, all night, rather than just during physical business hours.

Second, the implementation of a to start connecting our locations. Picture a NASA-style control room where we understand where people are, if physicians are available, the kinds of services individual consumers need and want, all tied to call centers and customer relationship management. That technology is something we think has incredible potential.

Third, the Center for Genomic Health. This involves the really significant leaps happening in our understanding of the human genome. Everything from pharmacogenetics that allow me to know which drugs work best for my personal makeup, so my doctor can prescribe just those, to my own genetic profile that allows me to know my risk factors, to tailor my cancer care or prime disease care for my very specific individual profile. We think that’s a burgeoning space.

Are you working with any tech providers or companies that are researching this kind of stuff to influence it or be in on the ground floor?

Yes, and I can touch on a couple. We were one of the small number of health systems that worked with Apple to connect the Apple Health app with electronic medical records. We worked with them so our consumers can pull those records into the Apple Health app. We’re working with GE on the command center, building that together and testing a lot of concepts there. A company called RDA is helping us with our consumer technology and our app and they’ve worked with a lot of large companies in the digital transformation. It’s a consumer era and I’m excited about that, too.

What has changed in the industry that makes a focus on the consumer that much more critical?

There have been a few changes. Because healthcare has been largely paid for through various insurance and government payment models, consumers have been buffered from the purity of information that makes an economy work. Today, more and more of the financial responsibility is with consumers through high-deductible plans and different kinds of structures, like HSAs.

Consumerism is alive in healthcare and consumers are demanding information that lets them make great decisions about doctors and hospitals and frankly, how to do as much at home as possible. So you think about similar transformations that already been done, in banking and travel and the kinds of things you can do today that we never dreamed we could do decades ago. Those all come from that consumer movement and it is alive in healthcare. A bit delayed, maybe, but alive. It’s fired off energy in the industry and we realize there will be winners and losers—and the winners will always be those that focus on what the consumer needs.

Recruiting and retaining top talent in the healthcare industry was already challenging; now with unemployment at all-time lows, it’s become even more daunting to attract the best and brightest. What is AdventHealth doing to stand out in a competitive market?

A few things. We have a very large talent acquisition team that is focused on making sure our pay and our benefits are exceptional. We know we need to be in a very competitive market position so we’ve studied that carefully. We’ve also increased our minimum wage heavily over the years, well above the required minimum wage in order to get talented people who can have a surviving wage in our organization and make a career of it.

We also use innovative interviewing technology that has really helped us. For example, video interviews using AI in the background, which gives us the percentage chance of an individual nurse staying with us for two years vs. another that has a lower percentage chance based on facial features and questions. Typically, the turnover for first-year nurses is very high – it can be as high as 40-50 percent—so anything you can do to find that person who is different from the rest of the college class who is ready and who has a level of commitment, who’s heart is in the work, it makes all the difference in the world.

We also have a reputation that brings a lot of candidates in; we get 500,000 applications for 5,000 open jobs. It’s very competitive and we’re thankful for that, especially in this economy.

What is it about your culture that attracts so many candidates?

A strong brand as well as our faith-based background. There are many people who see that as a differentiator. They’re looking for a place where they can go and be expressive of the fact that they have faith and see spirituality as a part of human thriving. So that creates a certain staying power, where people come and they feel at home and feel like family. So we have a very large number of long-term employees, similar to organizations like Disney, which creates a very deep family culture and we have that as well.

How does your proximity to some of the largest universities help fill your pipeline?

UCF is a very significant partner and we do significant recruitment from there. We also do innovation work together there. Rollins College has an incredible business school. We do work with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University around some of their research on space travel and its impact on human health. We also have our own university, AdventHealth University, which covers the spectrum of careers across allied health professions and that’s a great source as well as state colleges, Valencia CollegeSeminole State College and Daytona State College, they continue to grow their nursing programs and they do a great job.

Do you recruit from outside Florida?

We do. Our background as a company is Seventh Day Adventist and there are Adventist universities around the country that we recruit from. That’s something we do uniquely and we do pull in a lot of great candidates from those schools.

How much of your time as CEO is spent on talent-related issues and strategy?

I spend a significant amount of time on talent management, especially in the leadership-development realm. We have a very formal process for leadership assessment and succession planning. Every position has two or three names that will be successor for that position and each of those individuals has a development plan associated with those names, so I spend a lot of time with the people who report to me, but also developing the entire picture of succession in the organization and then development and mentoring and coaching. It’s a lot of fun to do that and see people grow in their careers and I spend probably 25 percent of my time on that.

What advantages do you gain from being headquartered in the Orlando area?

There are two I would focus on most specifically. First, it’s one of the largest tourist destinations in the world, so our ability to develop destination medicine and training programs is phenomenal and it’s a natural draw. Second, the economic development environment here, the Orlando Economic Partnership, and the ability to work with great partners has been phenomenal.

What help does Orlando Economic Partnership provide?

A number of things. The greatest is supporting us by investing in startups and enhancing the tech environment. We’re working hard on creating a health ecosystem around our organization and they have been a tremendous support bringing these great companies in R&D into town. They’re opening up all around our organization.

What are the biggest challenges facing your industry in 2019 and beyond?

A lot of them are challenges related to fixing the historical problems in the industry. Healthcare has been too fragmented, too complicated, and we need to simplify it, and too expensive, so we need to make it more affordable. Those are all really critical challenges that have been self-created over many years and have to be addressed and repaired.

What government’s role in that?

Government will have influence on pricing and pressure, but they won’t fix or transform the industry. That will be up to people like us.