Home Health Care How to unlock the digital front door for patient engagement in 2021

How to unlock the digital front door for patient engagement in 2021

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There’s no denying the global shift that’s occurred over the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every industry, especially healthcare. Social distancing and stay-at-home regulations resulted in a new way of life and spearheaded the use of patient-centric digital technologies. Now, more than ever, patients are demanding autonomy and user-friendly online solutions from the healthcare industry to manage their care — with the expectation that these tools will prevail beyond the pandemic. Additionally, with the Cures Act having gone into effect, patients must be able to access their records for free using a smartphone via API technology.

This change in patient behavior and expectation, along with the need for healthcare organizations to implement operational efficiencies and comply with regulatory requirements, has put more emphasis on the importance of building a cohesive digital strategy across the entire patient journey. As a result, the Digital Front Door — a disruptive virtual strategy that encompasses all the ways that patients can interact with their providers through digital channels — is becoming ubiquitous throughout the healthcare industry. However, many organizations don’t know where to start, or how to effectively build a Digital Front Door strategy that meets their unique needs. A Digital Front Door strategy is not reserved for only large provider groups (i.e. IDNs and hospital networks), but is essential for all healthcare organizations, big and small. The complexity of each provider group’s Digital Front Door, as well as the extent to which it is implemented, is dependent on the size of the organization, the size of the patient population, the organization’s specialty, and their budget. 

If you’re not thinking about your Digital Front Door strategy, you should be. Provider groups that don’t develop their Digital Front Door now will be left behind as  healthcare shifts to becoming more consumer-centric. Your Digital Front Door strategy should attract and acquire patients, while also keeping them engaged and loyal, far beyond the pandemic.

How Can Healthcare Systems Build Their Digital Front Door?

Create a Single, Coherent System

Many healthcare providers have an eclectic collection of third-party apps, portals, and websites, each one with its own function that requires patients to input a unique login. Even though these providers are giving patients the online features they want, patients aren’t pleased with the fragmented experience. A KLAS report released in February of 2020 revealed that patients are most looking forward to a consolidated patient portal experience in the future. How can healthcare systems create a unified digital experience for patients when they currently offer multiple third-party patient self-service tools? One way is by leveraging their patient portal and creating one single point of access.

By building a Digital Front Door around a pre-existing patient portal, providers can maintain the essence of what patients are already used to using. A cohesive experience that takes place on one platform increases comfort and confidence, bolsters satisfaction, and therefore leads to heightened engagement and improved outcomes.

A modern patient engagement platform should grant patients access to all online patient services and facilitate greater access to care via one single point of access. This can occur either on the healthcare organization’s website or an app, creating a streamlined entry point and experience. Merging multiple digital tools into one branded feature-rich system that respects patients’ preferences creates a coherent experience for the user and reduces the pain and cost for healthcare organizations associated with managing a disjointed mix of solutions. 

Interoperability

Ensuring interoperability, and that your solution can successfully exchange data to meet regulatory compliance and provide richer online patient services is crucial. Particular focus should be placed on securely opening up source systems that house this important patient information, such as Electronic Health Record (EHR) and Practice Management (PM) systems. Leveraging Continuity of Care Documents (CCD), REST Application Programming Interfaces (API), Fast Health Information Resource (FHIR), and Health Level Seven (HL7) will ensure a rich patient experience with the Digital Front Door as well as build a foundation for future projects where patient information is needed. Furthermore, as part of the Cures Act, patients must be able to access that information via a smartphone, and API access to the patient data must also be supported.  

Emphasize User Experience & Design

Patients have made it clear that they’re not pleased with current digital health solutions, especially their patient portal. A systematic review published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research observed that, overall, patients expressed the lack of user-friendliness as one of their top complaints about patient portals. A Digital Front Door should prioritize the importance of design and its impact on user experience, engagement, and outcomes. 

Data captured from patient portals can also be leveraged to personalize and improve the user experience and engage patients. For example, by providing education materials unique to the patient’s diagnosis and by delivering important reminders (e.g. follow-up appointments and medication refills). Personalizing the patient experience creates stickiness and keeps users returning to the Digital Front Door.

Mobile-first & Client Branding 

Overwhelmingly, people use mobile devices to access information online. This is especially true for health information. In 2020, at the peak of the COVID-19 crisis, mobile app downloads increased by 65% worldwide, compared to January 2020. If mobile optimization isn’t part of a Digital Front Door strategy, the adoption of the solution is severely impacted. A client-branded iOS and/or Android app is almost essential in today’s mobile-first consumer culture, and should be implemented in all larger healthcare organizations (100+ providers). This means that not only should the app be branded to the organization, but the app should also be published to Google and Apple’s app stores, and therefore be searchable using the name of the healthcare organization. For smaller groups that don’t have the available budget for a branded mobile app, one should focus on ensuring that their website and portal are both fully mobile-responsive and that the entire mobile experience is as streamlined as possible.

Incorporate Features Patients Want

To effectively capture patients’ attention, a Digital Front Door strategy should identify and implement features that patients want when managing their care online. According to Accenture’s 2019 survey, patients are more likely to choose a new provider that offers useful digital capabilities, compared to physicians who don’t. Some of the electronic capabilities that were polled include prescription refill requests, appointment and care reminders, patient-provider communication, self-scheduling, remote monitoring, and telehealth/telemedicine. And as the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, the popularity of features like telehealth, virtual waiting rooms, and mapping and wayfinding continue to grow. 

A robust Digital Front Door will attract, engage, and retain patients. Now has never been a more important time for healthcare organizations to build a comprehensive digital strategy to satisfy patient demand and offer operational efficiencies while meeting regulatory compliance. To learn more about the best strategy for building a Digital Front Door, and the most important features that should be included, read Bridge Patient Portal’s white paper: Unlocking the Digital Front Door With a Patient Engagement Platform.

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Bridge Patient Portal is an enterprise patient portal and engagement solution that empowers patients with self-service tools to better manage their care. The platform is mobile-ready, client-branded and ideal for health organizations seeking to offer patients a rich Digital Front Door experience. To learn more, visit www.bridgepatientportal.com.  

John Deutsch is the founder and CEO of Bridge Patient Portal with 18 years of healthcare IT business ownership experience specializing in patient engagement, marketing, and software/web development. He was the co-founder of EMR Experts, an EHR consulting firm, which was sold to Bizmatics Inc in 2008. Since then, John has also founded and served as CEO of Medical Web Experts, a leader in custom software/web development and marketing for the healthcare industry.

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