The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many healthcare organizations to seriously pursue digital transformation efforts. Recent publications such as the white paper “The Way Forward with Digital Transformation Accelerated by a Pandemic,” from the Harvard Business Review, have charted how businesses are facing these unprecedented challenges head-on.
In the wake of the pandemic, healthcare organizations have often adopted novel technological solutions such as telehealth and chatbots enhanced with artificial intelligence. Yet while such innovations have met with some success, they’re also piecemeal initiatives and fall short of comprehensive change.
What healthcare organizations truly need is to transform the healthcare system across the entire patient journey. Now, after a year’s worth of experience treading water, it’s time for healthcare organizations to think strategically and swim in earnest. They must build a platform for the future that enables digital transformation across the system and all of its touchpoints.
The Digital Front Door for Patient Care
You might have seen the phrase “digital front door” popping up in more and more places, especially in response to the “new normal” of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a time when more and more patient care is going virtual, a digital front door is the sum total of the interactions between patients and their medical providers. It includes phone and video calls, online portals, mobile apps, and more.
Each of these touchpoints offers a fresh opportunity for healthcare organizations to better engage their patients and improve the patient experience. In so doing, these organizations can create better patient outcomes, increase revenue, and improve productivity and efficiency.
The four points of value around the concept of the digital front door are:
- Engagement: Reaching more patients ensures they don’t get lost in the shuffle. It also offers tremendous revenue potential. According to a 2020 survey, 43 percent of people in the U.S. said that they had missed medical appointments due to COVID-19 issues, and 35 percent had missed routine cancer screenings.
- Efficiency: Collecting and centralizing patient data helps healthcare organizations become more efficient. In particular, clinicians can save time by not having to ask the same questions during patient onboarding visits. The Center for American Progress estimates that U.S. healthcare systems waste $248 billion per year on excess administrative activities.
- Access: “Access” may encompass the patient’s access to a primary care physician, specialists, or to the healthcare network itself. Understanding different patients’ situations and preferences, and how best to engage them, can help facilitate access and streamline care.
- Behavior: How can healthcare organizations ensure patients are following care plans when they’re not directly interacting with a physician? Techniques such as personalized care plans, remote monitoring, and even wearable technologies can all help improve patient outcomes in the long run.
Healthcare in the Age of the New Normal
In the wake of COVID-19, many healthcare organizations have prioritized the first two bullet points: engagement and efficiency. To a certain extent, this is an understandable adaptation in the face of unprecedented financial challenges. A study published in the Annals of Surgery, for example, estimated that U.S. hospitals lost $22 billion due to delays in elective surgeries between March and May 2020 alone. Another study by the American Hospital Association estimates $203 billion in losses for U.S. health systems in the four months of March to June 2020.
Yet for many healthcare organizations, there are still unexplored opportunities and touchpoints on which to capitalize. The components of the digital front door in healthcare may include:
- Member portals for routine functions (patient scheduling, refills, chart access, etc.)
- Offering various forms of care (preventative, outpatient, ancillary, post-acute, etc.)
- Developing personalized care plans
- Follow-up appointments
- Chatbots and live chat
- Remote monitoring
- Patient referrals
Often, healthcare organizations already possess the operational functions, clinical capacity, information, and technology to deliver a unified patient experience — they just need to be brought together in a cohesive strategy. The major challenge of the digital front door is coordination: getting people, data, and insights when and where you need them.
When constructing a digital front door, healthcare organizations should first step back and take a long look at their goals, assets, issues, and any gaps they need to fill. Simple changes can often be the most impactful. For example, having to ask patients for their date of birth only once, rather than multiple times, can help them feel more respected and valued.
Insights and data drawn from other areas and specialties can also be highly informative. For example, concepts from behavioral economics can help providers create care plans for patients with long-term health issues like diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Using ideas such as loyalty programs, habit-forming mechanisms, and social accountability can all help improve patient experiences and outcomes.
The Future of Digital Transformation in Healthcare
As a response to COVID-19, the new normal in healthcare has given rise to a robust digital front door as practitioners focus on patient engagement and retention. However, organizations need to look beyond these stopgap measures to enact true digital transformation.
In particular, healthcare organizations first need to understand their current assets, gaps, and requirements, with a clear end-to-end picture, before adopting new technologies. Concepts from other fields such as behavioral economics can help explain many of the current pitfalls and help healthcare organizations update their existing toolkits for aligning patients with care goals.
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