Providers must focus on maintaining the interpersonal connection alongside the digital experience.
A patient’s first contact with a new health care provider used to occur when they passed through the front door of a practice. They would be greeted and checked in by the front desk staff, who were often distressed by a constantly ringing phone. They then found a seat and waited patiently to see their provider. If they wanted to review their medical records or bill, they would have an onerous process ahead of them.
Today, 77% of patient journeys begin online, and most patients can schedule or check in for appointments through a practice’s website or mobile app. This new approach is known as a “digital front door,” and while patients and providers prefer it for its accessibility, convenience and efficiency, providers must focus on maintaining the interpersonal connection alongside the digital experience.
A front door is easy to visualize, but defining a digital front door is a little more challenging.
For one thing, it’s not a single entry point; it’s multiple entry points across several channels, including the practice website, mobile app, social media and even artificial intelligence-based chatbots.
The goal of a digital front door isn’t just to get patients to schedule an appointment online so they can have a visit in person. With telehealth, patients may not even need to go to the office. Instead, the goal is to leverage technology to improve each patient’s experience throughout their journey, giving them access to and control of their health care. That could mean anything from selecting their preferred provider to paying their bills online to reviewing their medical records at their convenience.
In short, the digital front door comprises all the different ways you and your patients interact online.
A digital front door can improve access to health care by removing barriers to entry, such as a demanding work schedule that makes it difficult to schedule an appointment over the phone during office hours. However, it’s not intended to remove the human connection. Your digital front door should enhance the patient experience, not replace your front office staff.
Encourage your team to embrace your digital front door. Ideally, automating the more tedious or repetitive tasks will free your staff to interact with your patients when it matters most. After all, if they aren’t on the phone scheduling appointments, they have more bandwidth to welcome patients, answer questions and improve the in-office experience.
However, it’s important to build a digital front door that’s cohesive, comprehensive and internally consistent. Practices that create their approach over time often wind up with a digital front door scattered across channels and platforms. These multiple systems reduce the efficiency and ease a digital front door is meant to create, such as by requiring that patients fill out the same form multiple times or provide the same information over and over. They’re also a hassle for your front desk staff, who then have to log in to multiple systems and handle frustrated patients.
A complete and fully integrated operating system that allows your staff to manage all aspects of your digital front door will quickly improve the experience for everyone.
A complete digital front door system should ease the burden on front office staff, freeing them up to handle higher-priority tasks.
Staff burnout continues to be a significant problem in health care. Before you add any new tools, consider how they will impact your staff. A piecemeal series of systems adds to staff workloads, increasing stress and the risk of burnout. A single, well-functioning system with automated workflows and digital patient intake boosts staff efficiency and productivity, helping them feel more effective and efficient.
Digitizing the patient journey more broadly also improves care coordination, making a patient’s information easily accessible with the click of a button. Everyone has access to the same information, allowing them to make well-informed care decisions, no matter which provider a patient sees that day.
In our consumerized health care system, patients have plenty of options when they choose a medical provider. Independent practices need to do whatever they can to stand out, and one key area is personalizing patient care. The digital front door offers an opportunity to provide a more personalized and customized experience with automated communication tools to check in and even re-engage with patients who may have dropped off.
What does your digital front door look like? Does it enhance the patient journey and take the burden off your front staff — or does it add headaches? If it does not enhance the patient experience, take the time to review each possible patient entry point, look for ways to integrate systems to simplify and streamline the entire journey and ensure that each patient is respected and valued in their digital interactions with your practice.
Travis Schneider is co-founder and chief corporate development officer for Tebra, a leading cloud-based health care technology platform. In his role, Travis oversees mergers and acquisitions and strategic partnerships for the organization.