How providers should rethink their digital front door strategies

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The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way many patients access the healthcare system. It’s impossible to put the genie back in the bottle, but providers still need to innovate on their digital front door strategies, said panelists during a discussion hosted by market research firm Frost & Sullivan.

The digital front door includes apps, websites, patient portals and devices that can engage or guide patients outside brick-and-mortar facilities. 

Patrick Drewry, vice president of patient engagement at Change Healthcare, said many healthcare organizations don’t think of themselves primarily as businesses and may not consider metrics like customer retention. But he argues that patients will go to other health systems if the digital front door isn’t accessible to them.

“It’s no longer a utility, an expense to set up this technology to be able to offer this to your patient,” he said. “There’s a business case here, and one that can be considered a growth or survival case. That’s the way people need to start thinking, and people are. Your competitors are, and so, if you don’t, there are consequences for that.”

Many provider organizations have built up their digital front door strategies over time, leaving them with a host of point solutions and vendors. Naomi Adams, senior vice president of customer strategy and solution engineering at League, argues that a platform approach is important so patients can find all of these digital tools in one place. 

Using data to personalize the experience could also push patients toward what action they need to take next.

“Healthcare is fundamentally complex. It’s very difficult to navigate. Getting everything in one place is step one, but then making it easy for the consumer to navigate within that,” Adams said, “both digitally and in a more omnichannel way, especially when we’re talking about provider systems where there is that real world, brick-and-mortar location that needs to be considered in the patient journey.”

Adams notes many organizations will add these engagement tools on top of the EHR since they already need to invest in the technology. But EHRs weren’t necessarily designed to be patient-facing engagement tools.

Dr. Rishi Pathak, global director of healthcare and life sciences at Frost & Sullivan, said healthcare providers are changing their strategies as they face more competitors from non-traditional players like Amazon and CVS.

“There is a big shift, wherein most of the healthcare providers are now looking towards more migration from point solutions to more of a platform and integrated solutions,” he said, “moving from data silos to have more of a patient experience and digital front door service to their patients.”

José Valdes, senior director of alliances at Castlight Health, argues that healthcare organizations need to provide action-oriented information to patients, like what they need to do next and when it needs to be done. They also should be able to manage these tasks on their phones, he added.

“I think things that the system still hasn’t addressed are some of the simple things, some of the low-hanging fruit,” Valdes said. “Making it easy to get an appointment, making it easy to communicate with your providers, making it easy to get the information that you need from the providers you are working with.” 

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