July 27, 2022

Healthcare Technology: Engaging Patients by Opening the Digital Front Door

Healthcare is evolving at a rapid pace. Trends before 2020 have been amped up by the emergence of COVID-19, urgently pushing patients and providers to high-tech alternatives for continued, competitive, and enhanced medical care experiences. Some healthcare changes spurred by the global pandemic have been less-than-welcome, but others are entirely beneficial and driven by clinical innovations, financial incentives, and patient preferences.

The world is going digital, so providing digital accommodations to your patients makes sense. A digital front door strategy can provide virtual access points across the service continuum, allowing you to connect with your patients throughout various times of their medical care journey. Essentially, you’re replacing those tedious in-person tasks with digital offerings controlled by your patients. Doing so not only affords your patients options and convenience but also helps alleviate an ever-increasing burden on your organization’s providers due to staff shortages present in many hospitals and other healthcare facilities.

“Digital front door tech funding reached a record high of $1.9 billion in 2021, up 67% year over year,” according to research compiled by CB Insights in May 2022. Additionally, that figure is expected to grow more than 32% by the end of the year, surpassing $2.5 billion. With the passing of 2020, telehealth has seen a slight decline, but patients still expect virtual appointments to be a choice. According to a patient satisfaction survey by Press Ganey, when deciding what providers to use, patients mostly consider access to digital scheduling, provider profiles, and remote care options as significant determining factors. Patients want to be connected to their healthcare.

What Is a Digital Front Door?

Many healthcare organizations utilize various platforms to manage online patient services, including appointment scheduling, patient portals, and online bill pay. These separate software products typically require patients to log in at different locations to access their information via the detached digital amenities. Understandably, users might find this setup confusing, overwhelming, or taxing, discouraging them from using providers’ online services altogether.

A digital front door resolves the disjointed process by offering patients a unified mobile platform, combining all third-party systems for easy, one-stop-shop access to the organization’s tools via a single app. It’s an omnichannel customer engagement strategy that uses technology to improve patient experience at every touchpoint in the customer journey. It represents how medical providers interact digitally with patients outside the point of care. The result is:

  • The creation of a single point of access. Patients do not need to register for each online service separately, remembering different usernames and passwords for several applications.
  • The seamless integration of different data sources. Linking various tools like EMRs, PM systems, and billing systems can present challenges for healthcare organizations. A digital front door makes this process less complicated, providing patients with a single, user-friendly interface for all the tools they need to participate in their healthcare and connect with their providers.
  • Increased interoperability. The outcome of a digital front door that adheres to HL7, FHIR, and CDC standards is valuable data that is more shareable.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Digital Experiences

The use of telehealth services significantly increased during the last week of March 2020, when our nation felt its first drastic impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. The report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed a 154% increase in virtual care appointments during this pivotal period compared to the same timeframe in 2019.

This increase was likely due to pandemic-related telehealth policy changes and public health guidance, such as adopting social distancing practices. Telehealth visits aren’t appropriate for all patients based on limited internet access or ownership of devices like smartphones, tablets, or computers; a lack of tech familiarity; and the seriousness of the required care. But the long-term benefits of telehealth services precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic include increased care access and a reduction of patient demand on understaffed and overburdened facilities.

These benefits and more are significant enough that healthcare organizations would be remiss not to continue down that path, extending telehealth and other remote services beyond the height of the public health crisis and even adding other virtual services to retain a competitive advantage.

How Can a Digital Front Door Strategy Benefit Your Organization?

There are very real benefits afforded to healthcare organizations when they adopt a digital front door strategy. Of course, the best part is that every digital front door strategy is unique and tailored to your business’s and patients’ needs. But despite digital front door strategies not being one-size-fits-all, they offer many of the same advantages, including:

  • Improved productivity and efficiency due to increased automation and better workflow: This allows for more time spent with patients and less time wasted on menial tasks.
  • Improved coordination of care due to enhanced access to needed data: With all information in one place, patient experiences and levels of care are more likely to be consistent, relevant, and valuable. Transitions will no longer be mired by confusion brought on by manual hand-offs.
  • Improved patient engagement leading to long-term relationships: Patients now have more options than ever regarding their healthcare. By personalizing your patients’ experiences, you can ensure that you create a lasting patient-provider relationship. Retention is key. By leveraging digital tools to re-engage patients and address their individual needs, without burdening your staff, you can create a cohesive and satisfactory environment where people will be happy to work and content to visit.

How Do Providers Use a Digital Front Door?

A digital front door is about more than patient access. Instead, it spans a virtual healthcare journey for your patients, not simply inviting them into your organization’s digital space but meeting them where they are to encourage continued engagement between the patient and their provider.

In short, your digital front door is a strategy designed to create various touchpoints with your patients to determine how connected and satisfied they are with the services provided and the provider-patient relationship. It also delivers convenience to your patients in deciding how they can be a part of their medical care and consistently interact with their healthcare team. For example, they can shop for physicians, services for care, inpatient food selections, and support programs, among other things.

For healthcare providers, a digital front door allows you to leverage multiple patient technologies to create a comprehensive and unified experience that will keep your organization relevant to your existing and potential patients in our ever-evolving virtual world.

Most digital front door strategies are still maturing or in an emerging or experimental stage. Only a small minority are sophisticated, meaning there’s a lot of work to get healthcare organizations to the point they need to be at to engage their patients in the medical care process. Regardless, many have already begun to leverage the developing technology to provide patients with heightened access.

From patient acquisition to ongoing digital care and follow-up, providers use digital front doors in the following ways:

  • Pre-visit digital marketing and acquisition (50%) 
    • Marketing outreach and campaign tools
    • CRM solutions
    • SEO tools
    • Social media content
    • Email campaigns
  • Finding and arranging care (95%) 
    • Symptom checker
    • Chatbot
    • Provider search
    • Scheduling
    • Call center
    • Patient check-in
  • During-visit digital care tools (15%) 
    • eICU
    • Telespecialty consultations
    • On-site fall prevention
    • Geofencing and on-site wayfinding
  • Post-care digital engagement (25%)
    • Remote patient monitoring
    • Wellness apps
    • Education
    • Medication management
    • Post-visit follow-ups

The Advantages of “Opening the Door” For Your Patients

Opening the door for your patients in the 21st century means so much more than providing physical admission to a building. It’s not just the experience that happens in the brick-and-mortar structure anymore—it extends to the digital realm, where technology plays a vital role in how your healthcare organization is perceived.

Opening a digital front door for your patients has many advantages in the modern world, including:

  • A single point of access to care: This equates to shorter wait times, more appointment availability, and fewer mobility hindrances.
  • Self-service: Your patients can have the freedom to control certain aspects of their own healthcare, thereby eliminating common barriers to medical care and allowing them to adopt the technologies they’re comfortable with.
  • Convenience: If it’s easy and convenient, people will generally use it, which in turn will minimize frustrations and engage patients on platforms that make connection simple.
  • Consistency in communication: Most people want to interact with their healthcare providers but would prefer to do it by phone. Often, your patients have their entire life at their fingertips, so it’s just good business sense to make yourself available there, too. Additionally, timely text and email reminders keep a patient’s health needs urgent in their minds, which means they’re more likely to follow up and address their ongoing care.
  • Transparency: As healthcare rates continue to rise and patients are more financially responsible for their health outcomes, they want to know they’re getting their money’s worth. A digital front door improves transparency online, allowing patients to access appointment statuses, medical records, and billing and payments from wherever they are.

Who Oversees a Digital Front Door?

Digital front door strategies are often led by people in various roles. Generally, even when one leader is identified for this task, strong collaboration with other stakeholders is required since digital front doors involve many different technologies—necessitating perspectives from various departments, including marketing, clinical, information technology (IT), and patient stakeholders.

The patient portal is generally reported to be the first step into a digital front door, with many viewing the implementation as more of a process that requires several hands on deck rather than a formal go live.

Most commonly, you might find the following individuals within a healthcare organization overseeing a digital front door program:

  • CEO
  • Chief Digital Officer
  • Chief Experience or Engagement Officer
  • Chief Marketing Officer
  • CIO
  • CMIO
  • VP of Digital Capabilities
  • Director of Telehealth Services
  • Product Manager of Digital Health
  • Director of Digital Innovation/Experience/Health/Transformation/Initiatives or Care Continuum
  • Other C-Suite Individuals or VPs

Partnering With Experts To Develop Your Digital Front Door Strategy

After the conversation starts about developing a digital front door strategy within your organization, it’s essential to connect with an expert to help you through the process. Your strategy should address specific problem areas and support patient engagement. You’ll want an end-to-end digital platform that you can scale to your healthcare organization’s specific needs and requirements.

Partnering with a knowledgeable and trusted digital front door strategy expert can help you get the process started right, by asking the right questions and involving the right people to target specific objectives and maximize digital initiatives. Your patients want to engage with you—you just have to open the door.

Quality. Commitment.

Whether you want to advance your business or your career, Oxford is here to help. With nearly 40 years’ experience, we know that a great partnership is key to success. Start a conversation today.