A powerful digital front door strategy is crucial to thriving health systems, hospitals, and medical groups in today’s environment where patients have plenty of options and expect a high level of access, convenience, and self-service. With the many pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, it would be easy for healthcare leaders to put their digital front door strategies on the back burner but COVID-19 and the rapid rise in telehealth adoption have only heightened the need to develop, implement, and strengthen these strategies. Seven executives echo this message in a recent Becker’s Hospital Review article, Why hospitals need strong digital front doors: 7 execs weigh in.
Defining the Digital Front Door
Every healthcare organization varies somewhat in its definition of the digital front door, but most agree that it isn’t any one thing, software, or access point. It isn’t the corporate website, the patient portal, or telehealth but it can be all these things combined into a strategy that also accounts for access points and digital strategies that open those access points to patients beyond typical business hours. Think about the patient journey through your organization and identify how many of the patient touchpoints can be accessed digitally, through a mobile device, and with a few steps as possible. For example, if a patient has to enter through a username and password or download an app to gain access, that patient touchpoint isn’t as accessible as it can be. In some cases, this is appropriate as PHI, like test results, care plans, and diagnosis, should be protected. However, if all your patient touchpoints are locked behind these types of protections, you don’t have a digital front door strategy.
Five Big Payoffs from a Powerful Digital Front Door
Healthcare executives agree that creating a digital front door to the organization is worth the time, effort, and resources and beyond that, essential to engaging patients. Here are five payoffs you can expect from your digital front door strategy.
It’s easier for new patients to find your organization
Like any industry, discoverability is key as patients look first to the web to learn about their healthcare options, prioritize them according to their values, and make a decision. The resources that you make available digitally grow your online footprint and make it easier for patients to find you. This comes from your website and online resources as well as ratings and comments on major review sites. You can nudge your patients to leave reviews on these sites with strategic tools like surveys and reputation management.
Better patient access
Patient expectations for digital access continue to grow as COVID-19 created new barriers to patient access. Patients have less grace for the gap in digital access between healthcare and other industries, they expect to be able to schedule and change appointments, ask and get answers to simple questions, and complete forms without playing phone tag with medical offices or messing with papers and shared clipboards and pens. There are many patient access points that can be opened digitally with software solutions like patient self-scheduling, automated waitlists, digital patient registration and intake, automated health campaigns, and even mobile billing and payments.
Your organization is easier to navigate
Whether you’re a large health system with many locations or a medical group with just a few, patients often find navigating their healthcare experiences intimidating and overwhelming. Sometimes this is because they have many appointments, procedures, and/or tests on the schedule, other times they may simply be unfamiliar with your organization. The ability to send links to maps, driving and parking directions, and even field simple questions with text conversations means your patients have better information and access to help when they need it.
Higher patient retention
According to a recent Accenture report, “64% of patients said they were likely or highly likely to switch health systems if their expectations are not met regarding sanitary and safety protocols, access to up-to-date information and the availability of virtual care options.” Your organization’s digital front door has the potential to not only attract new patients but also strengthen your ability to retain the patients you already have. A cohesive digital strategy lifts the burdens and frustrations associated with the patient experience and equips patients with better information to calm their anxieties and fears, helps them get to their appointments as-scheduled, make changes easily, and achieve better adherence to care plans. While telehealth is a key component of the digital front door strategy, it’s only effective if patients know that telehealth is available to them and how to access it. Telehealth is more accessible when combined with strategies like self-scheduling that patients can use to self-select not only their date and time but their visit format and can access 24/7. Telehealth also becomes a stronger strategy with higher ROI when it’s accompanied by digital tools that ensure updated patient information can be collected digitally, including payer information and insurance cards.
Fewer Gaps in Care
Gaps in care have always been a problem for both patients and providers as they indicate a patient is at risk for complications, higher acuity, and negative outcomes and can be detrimental to the quality initiatives and certifications that medical providers work hard to uphold. COVID-19 exacerbated gaps in care when patients became too afraid to access care, providers were furloughed, and some clinic locations closed temporarily. A powerful digital front door to your organization makes it possible to close these gaps, getting patients back on the schedule and back in compliance with their care plans, chronic disease management, and preventive health. From making it easy to re-enter the health system and get on the schedule to informing patients that all locations are open, their health and safety have been accounted for, and what their options are for accessing care, your digital front door can help you identify which patients have gaps in their care and makes it easy to reengage them.
A Digital Front Door is Within Reach
Whether you’ve got a few basic pieces or several pieces of a digital front door strategy that can be combined and leveraged together, chances are you’re partway there already. Wherever you are in the journey to create your organization’s digital front door, this will continue to be a strategic focus among healthcare leaders as the need and benefits continue to build. If you don’t already have a partner to help you identify and prioritize opportunities to strengthen your digital front door, that should become first priority. Look for innovators with proven track records of sticking with their customers, partnering long-term, and delivering tangible results.