Want to Develop Deeper Relationships with Patients? Meet Them at the Digital Front Door

Healthcare patients today have countless options to choose from. Payers and providers looking to build long term relationships with their consumers need to offer them a digital experience that’s a cut above the rest. That means making every step of the healthcare journey as seamless and convenient as possible.

For HDO’s and providers, a strong digital front door strategy is the key to creating such an experience.

Digitization alone does not resolve the disjointed experience that sours patients on their healthcare payers and providers. For a long time, the expectations of healthcare portals and the digital healthcare experience just weren’t that high. But that’s no longer the case. How can you differentiate your organization from competitors?

Meet your patients at the digital front door. Give them a warm greeting, and guide them through a digital experience that they’ll have no desire to abandon.

The Problem with Existing Healthcare Digital Experiences

Consumers today expect high-quality, frictionless healthcare digital service. But many current solutions offer a disjointed, confusing, and frustrating experience. When patients need to create multiple accounts in order to perform basic functions, like managing claims or scheduling appointments, aggravation is unavoidable.

Such problems stem from electronic health records (EHR) systems and core administrative processing systems (CAPS) built around provider and payer processes. They don’t put patient needs and the user experience (UX) first. The developers building these systems also often struggle to produce coherent patient apps because of a lack of experience in UX.

That’s a serious issue considering how crowded the healthcare landscape is today. There are traditional medical centers and primary care providers, pediatric offices, and specialists. But there are also retail clinics like CVS Minute Clinics and Rite Aid ReadiClinics, ZoomCare and Urgent Care facilities, and consumer brand giants like Amazon and Walmart to compete with. The threat of tech giants entering the market lies in their consumer-first approach to all of their lines of business, putting traditional payers and providers at an immediate disadvantage.

Among all of this competition, the digital experience is where the battle for healthcare payer and provider patients will be fought. When Covid hit, payers and providers were forced to make the switch to virtual. And demand for virtual services and appointments will continue to grow — not just in terms of signups, but in terms of expectations.

Healthcare organizations are now in a race to keep up with these patient expectations, which are continually heightened thanks to the digital experiences that other industries have taught consumers to expect. The only way to meet this demand is to improve the patient experience you supply.

The Patient Portal Example: How Current Healthcare Patient Experiences Come Up Short

Let’s assume that all of a patient’s doctors, clinicians, and specialists all work for the same healthcare delivery organization (HDO). Their single patient portal can provide them with most of what they need, including:

  • Secure messages
  • Visit summaries
  • Lab results
  • Medication lists
  • Appointment scheduling/request capabilities
  • Online bill pay capabilities (potentially, but not a given)

Missing here are any specialists, therapists, and other providers independent of the patient’s HDO. That means that they have to gather and manage this information separately — most likely outside of a portal.

It’s also possible that any single patient or their family may require multiple HDOs to meet their healthcare needs. If they have one organization for their primary care, but their children need pediatric specialization at a local hospital, then they’re juggling separate patient portals there, too.

Finally, consider those patients that simply move to another area like we’ve seen with remote workers during Covid. Once you establish care in that new location, you now have another patient portal to access. These portals are powered by the healthcare delivery organizations’ electronic health records systems, and they are generally very subpar in terms of the experience that they provide. This is where the digital front door strategy comes into play.

The Digital Front Door Solves These Healthcare Digital Experience Problems

Implementing a digital front door strategy can make or break the patient experience. It will be a determining factor in the success of healthcare organizations moving forward. As Kevan Mabbutt, Senior Vice President and Chief Consumer Officer, Intermountain Healthcare, told Becker’s Hospital Review in February, 2021: “Healthcare has the same consumers as hospitality, retail, big tech, entertainment, travel and other industries, and yet the industry does not typically provide a comparable experience. This may have been tolerated by consumers in the past, but things are changing fast. The industry needs to connect the dots between digital and non-digital parts of the healthcare journey to create a seamless and consistent experience from end to end.”

The healthcare digital front door is not and cannot be the clunky user portal that patients know today. It is a system that engages patients at the earliest stage of their health journeys, acting as the primary point of digital engagement and interaction.

Keep the Patient Journey in Mind

To understand the need for and the potential impact of a digital front door strategy, consider how complex the typical patient journey is. Healthcare patient journeys are traditionally broken down into these six phases:

  1. Trigger Event/Awareness: Patients assess symptoms, conduct research, consider potential health conditions, and potentially reach out to online communities.
  2. Help: Patients make initial contact with the health system, including health insurance payers, through call centers, email, in-person visits, or other channels.
  3. Care: Patients are assessed at medical facilities, be they physician’s offices, hospitals, etc.
  4. Treatment: The health system provides patients with on-site and follow-up care, including prescriptions, physical therapy, counseling, etc.
  5. Behavioral/Lifestyle Change: Patients change daily routines and take part in proactive healing to reduce readmissions and promote long-term health.
  6. Ongoing Care/Proactive Health: Patients manage their care between clinical visits or admissions, and the health system fosters engagement between patients and physicians in order to enable patients to address symptoms and maintain good health.

Creating a seamless, omnichannel experience spanning these stages is incredibly complicated, but it is not impossible. You need to consider which party owns each step of this patient experience, as well as how data passes from each party to enable that seamless experience.

The digital front door strategy is not merely about a patient portal. It encompasses touch points throughout the patient’s journey: researching a provider on the web, scheduling through the website, being reminded through text messages, checking in at the office on the phone, getting results through the web portal, and communicating with the doctor through a secure chat afterwards. If orchestrated correctly, this presents the patient with a seamless experience and provides a frictionless healthcare experience overall. Good experiences create loyalty.

How to Develop Your Healthcare Digital Front Door Strategy

The first step in developing your digital front door strategy is to assess your current state. Take a hard look at the number of communications channels used. Determine if communications can be orchestrated across multiple channels. Inventory your backend systems and services that are in place, such as software integrations. Interview patients about their experience with your current digital products, including the functionality of your portals, mobile apps, and SMS and voice channels. Audit your personas to ensure that you have a solid understanding of who you’re serving. Identify where their points of friction and frustration are. This sheds light on any gaps in your current digital experiences, workflows, or processes.

Next, you need to envision the future. What is the desired future state of your digital front door? How will it serve your patients? Align everyone on this vision from the start. Come to a clear understanding of where you want to end up. Then you can develop your UX strategy and the roadmap that will get you there.

Finally, evaluate your technology needs. What will you actually need to enable your digital front door strategy? Will you buy a third-party solution? Or do you need to build a custom solution? If so, do you have the talent in-house? Whatever the case may be, remember that your technology solution comes at the end. You need the vision first. If you start with the tech, and try to retroactively squeeze your vision into that box, your patients aren’t going to follow you through that digital front door you’ve worked so hard on.

Welcome your patients with a digital front door designed to make their healthcare journey as seamless as possible. Do that, and you’ve got the foundation for the long term relationship you’re after.

Unsure where or how to start? Then let’s talk.

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