During the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare organizations have augmented their telehealth capabilities to offer patients alternative access to care and avoid exposing them to the virus. It’s important to continue building out these virtual channels, given how eagerly patients have adopted them. Eventually, these virtual visit channels should be integrated into a broader digital front door strategy. Telehealth channels, portals and websites that are not integrated are not true doorways into the broader health system.
Any digital front door must lead to a rich ecosystem of well-integrated patient-centered experiences. The average healthcare system will have multiple digital front doors — from physical facilities that capture patient data electronically to video consults to apps. Regardless of which doorway a patient first enters, any doorways they access on subsequent visits should recognize them, anticipate their needs, offer a personalized experience, and collect and share data to continuously improve that experience.
Successful digital front door strategies require healthcare systems to become hyper-focused on the customer (that is, patient) experience. They must understand the expectations of their intended audiences and be clear about their goals of improving care access, patient engagement and efficiencies. Then they must constantly fine-tune both the digital doorways and the offerings behind them to achieve these objectives.
The experience design and the underlying delivery technology are each vitally important to a digital front door strategy. Experiences must meet patients’ expectations while also nudging them to adopt new behaviors that improve their health. Technology must support the experience, or else healthcare systems may implement modern systems and processes that patients simply ignore.
Services delivered through digital front doors must meet a specific set of patient expectations. Patients want to be cared for with warmth and understanding; enabled to manage their own care; empowered with relevant, curated data and guidance; and recognized and known as a specific individual, not just a patient. To meet patient expectations, here are the minimum capabilities we recommend digital front doors deliver:
Experiences at each doorway must incorporate these qualities — and flow into each other. An empathetic, warm experience at one doorway will be negated if the next doorway fails to recognize the patient or where they are in their healing journey. Ensuring seamless, intelligent patient experiences requires healthcare organizations to knit their many systems into a coherent ecosystem. That integration is built on data, and a platform is the best way to orchestrate data flows among many different systems.
The digital front door orchestration platform provides a uniform experience to patients and clinicians, drawing on data and capabilities in the underlying systems. The platform’s engagement layer creates a consistent look-and-feel across all the digital doorways, but that is only the beginning of the experience.
Cognitive layers, including artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, analytics and natural language processing capabilities, help the engagement layer recognize patients, understand their context and anticipate their needs. The platform conducts data to and from the cognitive layers from dozens of systems and devices: lab, pharmacy, clinical documentation, care management, administrative, patient-generated and third parties such as payers and government agencies.
A platform-centric approach enables healthcare systems to incorporate as many existing systems as possible into their digital front doors and easily add new niche capabilities as required. Modern, best-in-class systems typically will integrate well. Older systems usually have closed architectures, and it can be difficult to create bidirectional data flows with these. A platform can mask some of these challenges while a healthcare system transitions away from legacy systems.
Developing and maintaining digital doorways will be a continuing journey, more akin to a product management lifecycle than a marketing or IT project. To that end, healthcare organizations must assemble these components:
Digital front doors help patients access care in ways meaningful to them that are also efficient for the healthcare organization in terms of improving access to care, patient outcomes and efficiencies. A first step is for organizations to inventory how many digital entryways they currently have, especially new virtual visit offerings. Then they should evaluate the technologies being used to deliver these. Ideally, the virtual visits would all be delivered from one platform that can later support additional digital doorways. Otherwise, integration issues will become challenging in the future.
Given that patients see virtual visits as safe access points, healthcare organizations could prioritize transforming these into true digital doorways in preparation for eventually delivering the larger, connected experiences patients expect.
This article was written by Sashi Padarthy and Ashley Liewer of Cognizant’s Healthcare Consulting practice.