The Importance of Healthcare’s Digital-First Front Door

The Importance of Healthcare’s Digital-First Front Door - Wheel

What is the digital front door of healthcare, how can you measure digital health outcomes, and how has digital healthcare changed after COVID-19?

Leaders from Providence Health, CVS Health, and Kyruus recently joined a panel to discuss the importance of healthcare’s digital-first front door as a necessary imperative for all healthcare organizations today. What exactly is the digital front door? How are industry leaders implementing this concept? And how do we evaluate and measure the effectiveness of digital health initiatives?

Here we outline key takeaways forward-looking healthcare companies should keep in mind when considering digital health initiatives now and in the future.

What is a digital front door strategy?

A digital front door strategy is a consumer-centric, virtual approach to the first patient encounter in healthcare. Whereas healthcare’s front door used to be strictly physical—within a clinic, emergency room, pharmacy, or other brick-and-mortar location—virtual patient encounters bring the front door directly to the patient, meeting consumers where they are and allowing them to dictate how they want to receive care.

  • Making an appointment online rather than over the phone

  • Screening patients for COVID-19 infection via a chat bot

  • At-home virtual visits to triage and conduct care navigation

Amy Compton-Phillips of Providence Healthcare describes the digital front door as analogous to the Amazon Kindle. Kindle’s philosophy was to remove friction between author and reader. The digital front door concept removes friction between patient and caregiver by making the act of finding and receiving care as simple as possible.

How providers can benefit from a digital front door

Providers administer the highest-quality care when devising and following a patient-focused, personalized treatment plan. A digital front door gives providers the ability to focus their time and resources on working with their patients. It also offers the flexibility, accessibility, and convenience patients deserve and expect.

According to the U.S. Department of Human and Healthcare Services, telehealth services can benefit providers in the following ways:

  • Automation can help providers screen patients for COVID symptoms via a chatbot without tying up phone lines for those who require in-person visits and urgent appointments.

  • Using a patient portal frees up resources and saves valuable time for physicians. By offering a reliable, easily accessible portal that patients can use at all hours to book and amend appointments, administrators can focus on supporting physicians and their healthcare system.

  • By providing at-home virtual check-ins, providers can reduce no-shows by facilitating medical checkups that work with a patient’s busy schedule. They can even offer time slots that would traditionally be out-of-hours. Physicians can also provide care in a way that reduces the risk of exposure to COVID, increases the number of patients they can consult in a day. This reduces face time while improving patient outcomes, as well.

  • The virtual care experience lets patients conveniently and flexibly shape their care plan under a physician’s guidance. This flexibility improves the provider-patient dynamic. By bringing the clinic to the patient, patients have more autonomy over their healthcare. That in turn creates an opportunity for providers to offer truly personalized healthcare to a larger pool of patients.

  • Providers can monitor both their in-person foot traffic and their service usage data from their patient portal. They can then compare these figures to properly allocate available resources for a more efficient, cost-effective, and patient-oriented environment.

Post-COVID, a digital front door also lets providers plan for and avoid patient backlogs and extended treatment waitlists. As demand increases, the digital option provides the automation and adaptability to absorb the extra traffic while reducing the risk of staff absences due to COVID.

Digital front doors are a step forward in the healthcare industry that look to help providers offer faster and more customized, convenient healthcare that enhances patient satisfaction and retention. With a digital front door in place, providers can refocus on the aspects of healthcare that truly matter.

4 digital front door principles:

  • The digital front door must meet patients and consumers where they are, rather than forcing a particular path.

  • There can be many front doors to care, both within an organization and across different types of organizations.

  • There should be no “wrong door” to care, but rather a variety of options to suit a variety of consumer needs and preferences.

  • No single organization should “own” the digital front door—whatever works best for the consumer is what’s going to move the industry forward.

How can we measure and track outcomes of digital health tools?

To evaluate the efficacy of digital front door and virtual care initiatives, we must take a customer-centric and outcomes-centric perspective. It’s a balance between asking, “How are we doing?” vs. “How are you doing?”

While the patient’s satisfaction with and perception of care is still important, understanding the health condition after treatment is critical. Sometimes the patient’s best interests can be at odds with what they are seeking, and to accurately interpret outcomes we must look at different perspectives.

Feedback loops are also important to long-term digital health program refinement. Chris Gervais of Kyruus says patient descriptions of acuity and intent can help route them through different service modalities. By mining the outcomes data over time, organizations can leverage digital and physical assets in the best way possible to improve care delivery.

What is the patient journey?

The patient journey through a digital front door into a virtual care visit is markedly different from traditional clinician visits. It’s possible to look at the patient journey from two perspectives. The first is from a granular booking-to-care viewpoint. The second is from a wider diagnosis-to-follow-up stance.

For an in-person clinician appointment, the booking-to-care journey takes the following form:

  1. A patient notices a health issue and considers contacting their provider.

  2. The patient phones or emails their clinic and either stays on hold or waits for a response.

  3. They book an appointment and clear a block of time on either side for traveling to and from the care facility.

  4. They leave work early or find childcare, shift their schedule around, visit the facility, and stand in line to check in with the receptionist. If they’re diagnosed with COVID, they’ll need to isolate themselves at home and start the process again once their isolation concludes.

  5. If longer outpatient procedures are necessary, they’ll set aside several hours of their day to accommodate the procedure.

  6. If the appointment is just a quick checkup, they’ll have a 10-minute conversation with their provider, then get back on the road—potentially for much longer than the length of the appointment.

  7. The next time they feel sick or need a checkup, they think twice about visiting the same clinic—or about visiting a clinic at all.

A digital front door, however, removes the barriers of inconvenience and offers a patient journey that looks more like this:

  1. A patient logs into an automated patient portal, sees a selection of available appointments, and books one. They don’t spend any time on hold.

  2. On the day of the virtual care appointment, the patient awaits a video call at home, within the patient portal. If active treatment or testing is necessary, they may need to receive extra equipment or monitors in the mail first to provide data to the provider. Patients with COVID can be advised and monitored remotely, reducing the risk to staff and other patients. They don’t spend any time at all in transit.

  3. Any follow-ups and check-ins are conducted remotely, completely removing the patient’s commute. Consultations are quick, allowing providers to efficiently guide patients toward positive health outcomes. The patient enjoys a more convenient and comfortable experience.

  4. Patients feel more confident about booking future appointments at the same clinic, thanks to the quick, easy process between noticing their health problem and addressing it.

A smooth journey from booking to discharge—and a positive patient experience—can improve self-reported health outcomes. A digital front door brings the appointment to the patient. This efficiency can make the journey from diagnosis to follow-up faster, more convenient, and less intrusive.

How has digital health shifted after COVID-19?

Industry collaboration has been key to rapidly scale healthcare services during the pandemic. With partnerships between device makers, test companies, labs, public health departments, tech companies, hospitals, and more, nearly every healthcare sector has adopted some form of cross-industry teamwork. Firdaus Bhathena of CVS Health says it was this collaborative spirit paired with a compressed timeline that upped the game for healthcare organizations across the board to adopt consumer-centric digital solutions.

“There is no pre-COVID anymore. Digital demand and engagement may slow down, but will never go back.” - Firdaus Bhathena, Chief Digital Officer, CVS Health

Amy Compton-Philips says that technology hasn’t been the barrier to digital health adoption, it’s been patient acceptance and payment models that have hindered telehealth. Now that those barriers have fallen away and we are in the midst of a long-lasting digital health transition, we must iterate on existing virtual care experiences to make them more seamless, less fragmented, and more sustainable.

Watch the complete HLTH webinar recording of Demystifying and Democratizing the Healthcare Digital-First Front Door and find additional webinar resources here.

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