The term “digital front door” has been around for a few years, but it seems it’s popping up more and more as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. So what exactly is a digital front door in healthcare? In this blog, we’ll answer that question, discuss both the core components of a digital front door and its supporting framework, and examine what it means for the future of healthcare.
What is a Digital Front Door?
At first, a digital front door may seem like a hi-tech interface people must interact with in order to gain entry to a healthcare facility. Perhaps employees are required to scan their retinas or fingerprints to gain entry, or, in the age of COVID-19, employees and patients alike are scanned by a digital thermometer for signs of a fever before being allowed entry. While that technology does exist, that’s not what “digital front door” refers too.
According to Relatient, a company that provides patient engagement solutions, the digital front door is “a strategy for engaging patients at every major touchpoint of the patient journey using technology that patients have already adopted for everyday use.” Gyant, another company specializing in patient engagement, says it “is where and how health systems first engage with patients, assess their needs, and dictate how patients receive treatment and experience care.” So while there’s not a standard definition for a digital front door, it can be best summarized as the technology a healthcare provider has in place to engage patients from their initial point of contact through the end of their care, with an emphasis on providing the best patient experience possible.
Now that we’ve defined what a digital front door is, it’s time to look at its components.
Components of a Digital Front Door
While there are no official standards for technologies that constitute a digital front door, we’ll take a look at some of the most common solutions that help realize the goal of the strategy: improved patient experience through virtual engagement throughout the care process. These components can be split into two categories: those that comprise the digital front door itself, and those that act as the supporting framework keeping the door accessible.
The Door Itself
In this section, we’ll discuss some of the core components of the digital front door itself. These are the patient-facing components; those that the patient directly interacts with. As the crux of your digital front door strategy, the door itself is the patient’s gateway to your facility. As such, it’s important that the door’s components improve accessibility, convenience, and the overall experience a patient has engaging with your facility and staff. So what are the core components of the door itself? They include:
- Patient Portal – The patient portal is where patients go to login to their account with the provider. From here, they typically can view their past and upcoming appointments, treatment notes, medications, and potentially pay their bills. It’s important to have a sleek, user-friendly patient portal as this is the part of the door patients typically interact with the most.
- Scheduling Assistant – While the patient portal typically contains a scheduling assistant itself, it’s a good idea to have one available outside of the portal as well. Providing patients with the ability to schedule an appointment 24/7 without needing to download another app or click through several pages can greatly improve their overall experience. In fact, a 2019 survey by Accenture found that 77% of patients think the ability to book, change, or cancel appointments online is important.
- Navigation Resources – Hospitals are often large, complex, and confusing to navigate. While patients can refer to hospital maps once they enter the facility itself, providing access to these maps digitally allows patients to plan their route beforehand. There are also patient navigation apps that can direct patients to the correct lobby or department once they enter the facility, just like the GPS they may have used when driving to the hospital. Making the navigation process easier on the patient not only saves them time, but it also makes their visit less intimidating.
- Billing Software – Like a scheduling assistant, billing software is usually a component of a patient portal, but it should also be easily accessible outside the portal. Making it quick and easy for patients to pay their bills not only improves their experience, but it can also lead to faster collections for the hospital.
- Virtual Chat/Patient Assistance – Providing a virtual chat feature can help answer any questions patients may have, whether it be assistance with scheduling an appointment or paying their bills, or what the hospitals COVID-19 protocols are. It’s also a good idea to provide a phone number patients can call if they’d rather speak over the phone.
While there are several other features that can be included in your digital front door strategy, the five we’ve discussed are some of the most common ones. Any software that patients can directly interact with to improve their experience should be considered as part of your digital front door. One of the most important aspects of any digital front door component is mobile-friendliness. As people are increasingly on their mobile devices, it’s imperative the software you use is compatible with phones and tablets.
The Supporting Framework
While the digital front door itself is the patient’s gateway to care, a door is no good without its supporting framework. In addition to the patient-facing features we just discussed, there are many internal ones that enable them to exist or strengthen them. The software and applications that comprise the supporting framework of your digital front door strategy should focus on automating routine tasks and reducing clinical workflows to allow staff more time interacting directly with the patient. Components of the supporting framework include:
- EHR – An EHR acts as the hub for a patient’s entire medical profile. EHR integrations with the patient portal, scheduling assistant, and billing software are essential for patients and hospital staff to access critical patient information in a timely manner.
- Order Management Software – Order management software helps ensure the right procedure is ordered for the right patient at the right time. Additionally, it helps streamline workflows by providing an electronic order with complete transparency, reducing back-and-forth calls and eliminating faxes, one of the 13 big ideas in healthcare innovation in a recent Becker’s Healthcare article. The time clinical staff saves can be used to directly interface with the patient.
- Enterprise Imaging Software – Another solution that helps streamline care and clinical workflows in enterprise imaging. Enterprise imaging software with a universal archive saves time by allowing images to be pre-loaded and facilitating collaboration.
The Door to the Future of Healthcare
The future of healthcare is already here, and it starts with a digital front door. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, patients wanted from their healthcare providers the same digital experience Amazon provides for shopping and Netflix provides for entertainment. The rise of virtual visits and telehealth as a result of the pandemic has only increased patients’ desires and expectations of an outstanding digital experience.
Enter the digital front door. In order to provide an exceptional patient experience, providers must engage with patients at every step in their care journey. Incorporating a digital front door strategy helps accomplish this. The components of the door itself, from the patient portal to virtual chat, should make it easy for patients to retrieve their medical information, schedule an appointment (as well as change or cancel it), and pay their bills. The software and processes that make up the supporting framework should automate routine tasks and streamline workflows to enable staff to dedicate as much time as possible to directly engaging with patients.
This article was originally published on iPro Healthcare blog and is republished here with permission.