Digital healthcare is taking strong footing as a complementary element of healthcare services; this has shown to dramatically improve clinical and patient outcomes. More so in recent times, telehealth platforms have “virtually” transformed the way healthcare is delivered to consumers. And they have been growing at a tremendous pace. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the public interest has skyrocketed, with some parts of the US witnessing a 10-fold increase in engagements. McKinsey is particularly bullish about the telehealth sector and has pegged its value at a whopping USD 250 billion industry post COVID-19.
The accelerated adoption of telehealth is a great indicator of possibilities from digital adoption and the result of online-offline integration creating what we call the “digital front door”. The digital front door is a strategy to seamlessly engage healthcare consumers at every interaction touchpoint in their journey. This is enabled using digital technology and by operating within a mature digital ecosystem. Today, digital technology is an embedded part of the experience that consumers have every day, across day-to-day platforms, though they may not always be aware of it. These include AI-based recommendation engines, API enablement, and analytics tools that various platforms like Netflix and Amazon use extensively.
In fact, platforms like Netflix have changed the way we consume service. And right now, the conditions are ripe for a similar disruption in the healthcare space. A healthcare platform that seeks to achieve the same level of customer loyalty would, therefore, be required to deliver a user experience (UX) that goes leaps and bounds beyond the typical virtual patient encounters. It is no wonder then that the American Medical Association deems telehealth to be the Netflix of medicine.
A successful digital front door does not just serve as the primary interaction layer in a healthcare system. It also ensures a smooth, simple, and aesthetically pleasing user experience through the entire journey, where patients are treated like valued customers. Above all, a digital front door has to remain ‘always on’, ‘always available’. The 2017 US Telemedicine Industry Benchmark survey revealed that 61% of patients considered the ability to schedule or cancel an appointment a critical component of a virtual care platform. With COVID-19 restricting us to our homes, the demand for such access and taking the journey beyond can be reasonably expected by the patients. Providers would be wise to take note.
The Need for a Digital Ecosystem
The digital front door has become a necessity in the age of social distancing. But it needs a mature digital ecosystem to exist. To build an effective digital front door that opens the world of digital healthcare consumerism, providers must focus on developing a digital ecosystem that is flexible enough to accommodate all the requisite hardware and software. When thinking of such a telehealth IT infrastructure, two basic features come to mind: clinical information systems integration and data management tools.
Clinical information system integration involves unifying various sources of data such as EHR, PACS images, and hardware (sensors) using open system integration. To provide a comprehensive connected experience to users, providers planning to develop a digital front door must ensure smooth integration with the existing infrastructure of laboratories and remote monitors through open application programming interfaces (APIs).
A flexible, integrated IT infrastructure lays the groundwork for healthy growth and readiness in the adoption of new-gen technology. The shift in how consumers’ access care has already prompted traditional providers to embrace technology to overcome persistent challenges associated with access and data management. For health insurance firm, Anthem, this meant partnering with K Health, a digital health startup to develop an app that offers symptom triaging services to more than 40 million members. The AI-powered triage algorithm gives users the option to communicate directly with providers to run their symptoms by them and seek treatment advice.
Approaching a Digital Front Door Strategy: The Know-What for Providers
Developing a powerful digital core no longer falls under the purview of just the IT department. A powerful digital core gives an organization the ability to create holistic experiences for their consumers, and requires a unified ecosystem. Consider healthcare giant, CVS-Aetna’s HealthHubs. HealthHubs introduces a retail-like experience to primary care. This digital front door provides patients with access to walk-in clinics where they can easily navigate various services that include in-person consultations with available physicians.
To build such an experience, providers must go beyond simply integrating clinical information systems and data management tools. From a strategic perspective, providers need to leverage the strengths of their partner ecosystem. This, in turn, can accelerate the digital transformation journey by tapping into previously underutilized technological expertise and industry experiences.
Implementing partner-technologies like IoT and analytics can significantly improve the digital capabilities of healthcare providers and create a digital landscape that engages and delights consumers. By deploying a multi-organization platform, providers can begin to reframe the quality of patient care by leveraging business metrics within the larger digital healthcare ecosystem. This is where keeping all the moving parts in sync becomes imperative to enable the digital dream.
Another key aspect is the development of cross-functional teams, that have a deep working knowledge of the digital world that patients are expected to navigate. Such teams will involve members from operations, product, clinical, and research teams, along with physicians and care givers.
Eventually, it is the seamlessness and fluidity of the experience that will determine how effective it is at acquiring and retaining patients. By building a seamless flow throughout the digital ecosystem from virtual to real, and out-patient to in-patient, providers can ensure consumers feel comfortable using their platform. Providers need to hone their focus on scaling and improving the platform to better support relationships between patients, providers, and payors.
The Future in a New Normal
There are numerous benefits of a digital front door. The most obvious one is the fact that it allows providers to deliver an omnichannel healthcare experience to consumers at a time when physical visits to the clinic are shrouded in fear. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it critical for healthcare providers to introduce touchless check-ins and reduced wait times.
This is exactly what digital front doors promise to deliver. A digital front door can reduce patient wait times by a significant degree leading to an efficient healthcare system, a low-stress patient pool, and growing revenues for providers. Moreover, the seamless experience across channels provides patients with a continuous 360-degree care environment, whether it’s over digital media or across the various physical touchpoints like clinics, hospitals, emergency rooms, or the patients’ home.
A digital front door approach ensures a high degree of comfort for patients, which increases their trust and the frequency of interactions with the provider. For patients with chronic conditions, building engagement and retention outside the walls of a hospital can be especially beneficial. Almost 60% of US adults have at least one chronic disease and 40% adults have two or more. Creating engagement platforms, support groups, peer involvement, better patient health behaviors, and overall wellness initiatives is a potential growth area for providers. This could lead to generating new revenue streams for providers and prompt an evolution in the payer ecosystem.
The digital front door is a crucial aspect of a digital-first patient experience. At the same time, it is also so much more than that. It is a new-age digital strategy to engage patients at every step of their healthcare journey and infuse the entire experience with empathy and holistic care. This can radically improve patient outcomes while also improving the efficiency and profitability of all stakeholders. This digital front door opens up promising new realities so when a patient walks through the door, they are already part of a meaningful service experience that is focused on offering them the best experience. And that is a future worth innovating.