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    Bijoy Singha

    The consumerism-driven culture has accelerated the digital transition in every industry. Forward-thinking brands – from retail to entertainment – have redefined customer interactions by leveraging digital technology for better accessibility, personalized experience and overall convenience. 

    In contrast, the healthcare sector has had a sluggish approach to digital transformation. Customers who are accustomed to the digital convenience from other services are the ones who turn up at the clinic for their appointments. While patients previously didn’t expect the same level of engagement from healthcare, things aren’t the same anymore. 

    As patient financial responsibility increases in double digits every year, patients want to be more involved in healthcare decisions. Rather than responding to providers, patients seek a balanced relationship, focusing on better communication and engagement. Additionally, the pandemic has forced patients and providers to rethink care access. These factors have culminated in the full-speed adoption of the digital front door strategy. 

    What is a Digital Front Door Strategy? 

    Every healthcare organization has its own way of defining a digital front door strategy, but it generally boils down to this – an integrated approach that offers patients a meaningful and connected experience at every step along their journey. The strategy focuses on using existing technology that consumers generally adopt to ensure a self-service, on-demand option. With a “Use Your Own Device” philosophy, the digital front door brings a simple and interactive strategy to deliver better patient engagement. 

    A well-executed digital front door strategy benefits both parties – patients and practice – making every care point easy for patients to access and simple for practices to manage. Apart from delivering a seamless patient experience, the digital front door strategy helps health systems tap into automation, translating into practice efficiency. 

    Role of COVID-19 in the Digital Evolution 

    The pandemic caught everyone and every industry unawares, confining us to our homes. The healthcare sector had to react and adapt quickly to dynamic situations, thus fueling the idea of virtual care, self-service and no-contact care delivery. 

    • Telehealth – a trend that was slow to pick up momentum – saw a sudden boom. In fact, telehealth visits increased by 145% during March 2020 when compared to last year. 
    • Multiple self-assessment tools emerged that helped a massive population understand their symptoms within a safe bubble.

    The healthcare community cast aside all apprehensions towards digital technology and adopted a new normal out of necessity. But, with its ability to alleviate stress and amplify patient engagement, digital convenience has left a lasting impression. Patients are becoming accustomed to easy access to care and will continue to adopt, if not expect, better digital encounters.  

    The Digital Advantage for Patients

      1.    Single-Point Access to Care

    Navigating through the current healthcare system can be overwhelming. Limited appointment availability, long wait times and mobility challenges are often frustrating. As a result, most patients treat medical visits as a last resort. This impacts patient outcomes and, at times, results in costly compliance violations.  

    A digital front door strategy hinges on minimizing barriers, allowing patients to access care when they want, how they want and where they want. Instead of relaying between different communication channels – i.e., phone calls and external platforms – practices can set up a single point of access to streamline care across the entire patient journey. 

    By providing a self-service platform, patients can access care while adopting the technology they are comfortable using. While the point of access is omnichannel, the unified digital strategy brings a seamless experience regardless of the channels patients choose. With reduced entry points, patient engagement will ensue naturally and improve the overall healthcare experience. 

      2.    Convenient Patient Experience

    Consumers naturally gravitate towards what is easy and convenient. A digital front door strategy taps into this inherent patient behavior by providing digital tools that minimize frustrations during their care journey. 

    Using everyday technology like smartphones, patients can fill out intake forms and make payments online at any time of the day, without even stepping into a facility. In fact, according to an Accenture survey, 74% of patients said they are now likely to use online chat or texting to provide check-in information before their appointment, if such a service is available. 

    Also, instead of calling the front desk relentlessly, patients can access information and keep track of follow-ups using a digital platform. Such convenience can delight patients and improve their experience tremendously. 

      3.    Consistent Communication

    Here’s a fact – 80% of patients want to interact with their healthcare providers using a smartphone. A digital front door meets these patient expectations using communication channels like SMS and email. From appointment reminders and critical lab results to outstanding payments, practices can communicate timely information. By receiving consistent, timely communication, patients are more likely to address their care needs. 

      4.    Improved Transparency 

    As patients continue to take more financial responsibility, they expect better transparency in every healthcare decision. With a digital strategy, practices can move critical aspects – i.e., appointment status, payments and medical records – online. Patients can access information whenever they need it, breeding patient loyalty and minimizing attrition. 

    The Digital Advantage for Practices

      1.    Enhanced Productivity and Practice Efficiency

    One of the critical aspects of a digital front door strategy is automation. With staff drowning in manual tasks and paperwork, care delivery takes a significant setback that results in patient frustration, long wait times and physician burnout. Providers even end up spending less than a third of their time attending to patients because of increasing desk work. Digital patient intake and automated workflows eliminate all such inefficiencies throughout care teams to improve productivity. 

    From digitizing paperwork and minimizing phone calls, to gathering patient information and using digital receipts instead of scanning copies, a digital front door can remove redundant, time-consuming processes for improving practice efficiency.  

      2.    Seamless Care Coordination 

    Today, patients receive varying levels of care, and the experience is not always the same. In most cases, staff coordination, manual hand-offs and management of multiple patients at the same time prevent care teams from providing quality care, resulting in low patient satisfaction scores and poor health outcomes. 

    With a digital front door, practices can replace manual processes and ensure better coordination between care teams. This means everyone has access to the right data at the right time. By making the transition from the front office to the encounter room smooth and consistent, practices can ensure the same level of engagement throughout the care journey.  

      3.    Patient Engagement and Retention 

    The rising trend of consumerism in healthcare puts the focus on personalized care. As patients continue to explore healthcare options, it is important that practices leverage personalization to attract patients for maintaining optimal revenue. Practices can tailor communication to specific individual needs – i.e., sending medication refill reminders and educational material related to their diagnosis, or even offering payment options based on their behavior – by leveraging digital tools. 

    Using automated communication tools, practices can re-engage patients in their care journey to retain the customer base and ensure revenue longevity. Achieving all this without increasing burden to the staff and finances can be a game-changer for practices.    

    Next Steps: Moving Forward with a Digital Strategy

    There is no cookie-cutter example of how a digital front door strategy should look. It varies for every organization. Frame your strategy after a thorough analysis of your critical challenges and improvement areas. 

    Multiple point solutions that address specific problems are available in the market. However, navigating between different systems can become overwhelming for both your staff and patients. With multiple vendors, interoperability issues can arise, resulting in additional manual work. And, importantly, every software offers a different level of engagement, and practices using multiple vendors may fail to deliver a cohesive care experience. It is best to choose an end-to-end digital platform that provides the flexibility to choose and scale tools based on your requirements.


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    Written By

    Bijoy Singha

    Bijoy Singha brings with him a rich experience of over 17 years in the healthcare domain as a technology innovator and IT strategist. At HealthAsyst, Bijoy heads the product development group involved in building cutting-edge solutions for the healthcare industry.

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