We’ve had seamless online banking and financial management for years–deposits, transfers, spending analysis. We take for granted that we’ll receive alerts on potential fraud, budgeting tools, and mobile services that create anytime and anywhere access. It’s the same story for travel, shopping, groceries, transportation. Everywhere around us, in almost every part of our lives, we’ve enjoyed a rapid shift toward contextual, integrated digital consumer experiences.
Everywhere except healthcare.
This isn’t breaking news. Healthcare has lagged its peer industries in embracing technology—particularly consumer-facing technology—for decades.
What is new is the growing impatience among consumers who are no longer content to accept that healthcare is just inexplicably different, plus new market entrants that are primed to reset expectations. Other industries have figured it out; why can’t healthcare? Perhaps more pointedly: Other industries have discovered what it means to be truly focused on consumer needs and serving them through digital channels. When will a similar discovery occur in healthcare?
For forward-leaning healthcare organizations, the answer is decidedly now. Realizing that consumers are increasingly making choices based on cost and convenience, these organizations are taking action to engage consumers through a host of integrated digital channels. They are creating digital front doors that rival the seamless experiences seen in other markets.
Here are three lessons learned along the way for how other health systems can produce similar success in developing a consumer-grade digital front door:
Rally the right group of troops
A digital front door is more than just the initial pages of the website that describe health system services and approaches to care. It’s the full set of digital capabilities that link a consumer from initial awareness and interest all the way through to care delivery at the appropriate site. That includes everything from provider directory and search to ratings and transparency, scheduling, triage and virtual visits.
To maximize the impact of the digital front door, health systems must engage and work across several areas of the organization, including information technology, marketing, strategy, and clinical leadership. Technology teams must commit to working together to enable clean handoffs between multiple third-party applications. For example, as consumers move digitally from provider search to care navigation, they can’t be forced to re-enter data. Clinicians must be willing to collaborate with digital transformation teams and even give up some individual control of crucial elements—such as their schedules—to unlock greater value in the digital front door.
At a recent industry event, Piedmont Healthcare’s vice president of experience Katie Logan offered insights on the importance of this accountable involvement across multiple teams as a key challenge and opportunity.
“Today, we’re just over 600 providers live with online scheduling. And in turning on online scheduling for all of them, we’ve had to think through how templates are structured provider by provider, practice by practice. What are those preferences that each location is managing around? How do we mitigate that fear of the wrong patient getting in the wrong slot?” said Logan. “So we just keep iterating, working through those pieces and proving that it works. And the data bears that out: 30% of new patients are booking outside of normal office hours, when a phone call isn’t even an option.”
Understand the new rate of change
Even health systems that have dedicated resources and investment toward all seven capabilities of the digital front door may find themselves losing out if they aren’t creating consistency of excellence and experience across all seven capabilities. Other health systems find themselves looking at the list of seven capabilities (provider directory, search, transparency, scheduling, triage, low-acuity care navigation, virtual visits) and immediately see gaps in their own strategies, wondering where to start in the work and how to catch up.
The good news for all health systems is that they are not alone, regardless of where they are in the maturity of their digital front doors.
In spring 2019, a digital front door audit of 22 health systems revealed a couple of a-ha moments:
Among the 22 health systems, 15 have digital solutions adopted or fully scaled for provider directory, 14 for provider search, 12 for transparency
16 of the 22 are piloting or have adopted solutions for synchronous virtual visits
The numbers show significant attention and investment in the “blocking and tackling” elements of the digital front door—areas like directory and search. They also show a fairly significant momentum toward more advanced capabilities, like virtual visits. The main takeaway: Health systems that want to remain relevant among digital consumers and sustainable in the long-term are taking action now and accelerating their work toward building digital strength.
AVIA Group Senior Vice President for Client Engagement Patti Sweeney talks about the need to act with urgency: “Take an honest look at your organization and understand where you are in terms of all of those digital front door capabilities. Build on your strengths, build on the physician leaders and supporters that you’ve identified through your EHR rollout. You know who those champions are and the folks who are willing to work with you to do something new. And remember to keep focus on those foundational elements, such as the provider directory, that will then create benefits across all of your digital front door work.”
Build urgency (and find capital) at the highest levels of the organization
It’s easier said than done. C-suite leaders and boards of directors have strategic goals and budget priorities that run the gamut. How do health systems leaders drive the necessary attention—and financial commitment—to turn the interactive capabilities they have today into a fully formed, consumer-grade digital experience? From our work with health systems nationwide, it helps to reframe the work altogether. This isn’t about simply improving provider search or adding automated triage capabilities; it’s about preventing the loss of millions of dollars from commercial pay patients that will seek care through more convenient options. This isn’t about just adding cool virtual visit tools; it’s about capturing new market share in ways that maximize your cost base.
In the end, it’s all about creating consumer experiences that are consistent with what all health system leaders believe their organizations should provide. The best perspective often comes from handing the megaphone over to the consumer.
Russell Rein, vice president, Ambulatory Services & Practice Management, University of Kansas Health System, talked about how his team did just that as part of their efforts to catalyze digital transformation.
“The best way to get attention from the board and our staff about the need for digital change, was to just literally record the voice of the patient trying to make an appointment and trying to navigate our system,” said Rein. “When we played them some of those snippets and brought out the stories, our leadership—all the department chairs and the executive leadership—understood immediately where we want to be and how quickly we needed to move to get there.”
Derek Baird is senior vice president, AVIA