As digital adoption rates have skyrocketed in recent years, healthcare organizations have made it a core objective to meet patients where they are. Now, however, leaders are taking it further.
“It’s about meeting the patient exactly where they are, how they prefer, and on the channel that they choose,” said Amber Fencl, VP of Digital Health and Engagement with Novant Health. That’s where the digital front door comes into play. “It’s a variety of experiences we must make available to stitch together a journey across different digital platforms.”
During a recent discussion, Fencl spoke along with panelists Nassar Nizami (EVP and Chief Information and Digital Officer, Thomas Jefferson University & Jefferson Health), Joel Vengco (SVP/Chief Information & Digital Officer, Baystate Health) and Israel Krush (CEO, Hyro) about their digital front door strategies, and how they’re meeting obstacles along the way.
It’s no easy feat; the challenges are complex and often deep-rooted. And therefore, it must be approached the right way — as an enterprise-wide initiative that requires involvement from various stakeholders.
“We see the digital front door as a strategy to engage patients throughout the journey,” said Nizami. “It’s a comprehensive, 24/7 way for us to stay in touch with patients.”
A three-layered framework
Before that can be achieved, however, organizations need to have a proper framework in place that includes multiple layers, according to Vengco. The first is determining the experience you hope to achieve. “From there, we look at the operations we have in place today that would help achieve those experiences or outcomes,” he said. “Oftentimes we find that that experience we’re looking for can’t be supported by current operations. It creates a different outcome and forces your operating partners to identify what we’re going to do to be able to achieve that.”
At Baystate, digital front door initiatives took off during Covid, with capabilities around scheduling tests and vaccine appointments and enabling virtual visits. And with elective procedures coming back, digital tools are being leveraged to help ensure patients follow the necessary instructions before screenings such as colonoscopies that require preparation.
“The digital front door enables patients to access information engagement in the way that they want it,” he said, adding that it can also help reduce no-shows.
Nizami’s team is utilizing digital tools in a number of capacities, one of which is voice commands. With this technology, patients in rehab facilities are able to adjust the lighting, open the blinds, or even change the temperature. It’s been a huge satisfier, he said, noting that Jefferson has been working with Hyro to “automate some of the intelligent features” that can positively impact the patient experience. “We believe this is the future, and we’re excited to be working on it.”
At Novant, the cornerstone piece of the digital care platform is a virtual assistant that leverages Hyro’s technology to create a “conversational experience,” said Fencl. “It allows our patients to ask questions, schedule appointments, and do a filter search for physicians using characteristics that are meaningful to them.” The insight gained from those discussions can help shape the organization’s priorities, she noted, adding that it’s been part of a long-term goal. “We’re very intentional about surveying, assessing, and embedding ourselves within our communities so that we can truly understand what people want.”
“Too many apps”
Once that has been established, the next step is to determine whether those wants can be supported — and if not, what needs to be done to make it a reality.
Of course, there are a number of hurdles; one of which is the fact that healthcare consumers expect the same level of service and accessibility they get from e-commerce. As a result, organizations often end up with more solutions than they can successfully manage.
“There are too many healthcare apps,” said Nizami. “For every specialty, disease and service line, there’s a solution.” Along with that, “there’s a significant adoption and training element, which is becoming more of an issue as we have these niche solutions.”
Fencl concurred, adding that “the number of point solutions that have come to market is overwhelming.” And if organizations aren’t careful, “you’ll quickly end up with a real estate of technology that is disconnected and not well stitched together.”
It’s a stark turn from the “cohesive, organizational strategy” that IT and digital leaders strive to achieve. Doing so, of course, entails overcoming myriad challenges — particularly involving workflow — that, if left unchecked, can have disastrous consequences.
To that end, the panelists offered best practices when it comes to dealing with these hurdles.
- Automation isn’t always the answer. “There are workflows that are complicated,” said Nizami, cautioning attendees to avoid “anything that takes more than a few minutes,” with one example being a symptom checker. “We’ve seen, time and time again, that after a few minutes in, patients get frustrated.”
- Find a clear path. Instead, leaders should introduce automation “where there’s a clear path,” said Fencl. For instance, implementing self-service technology for specialty service lines can become challenging.
- Approach re-engineering carefully. As someone who has held a variety of roles, Fencl strongly recommends that leaders invest in pre-planning and design sessions and journey mapping — and it should happen “at the early onset of an initiative.” It should also include all stakeholders who are part of the proposed project, including clinical, informatics, and engineering, among others.
- See it come to life. She also suggested involving those with subject matter expertise in journey-mapping concepts, who can “help facilitate thinking through how that workflow would truly come to life from a patient perspective and a clinical perspective,” Fencl stated. “If you take the time to do that upfront, you’ll identify those points of friction that you may not have found until you were too far down the implementation path.”
- Don’t automate broken processes. “When we think about implementing an IT system, oftentimes the processes we’re trying to automate are very difficult to follow,” said Nizami. “When you automate a complicated, broken process, it can magnify underlying problems significantly.” As a result, Jefferson has made it a priority to ensure understanding across the organization, meaning IT has individuals who are well-versed in engineering and lean processes, for example.
- It’s not an IT project. If digital front door initiatives are viewed as IT projects, “it can be a big barrier,” according to Vengco. The way to avoid it? By creating internal and external partnerships, he noted. “Make it a business strategy because it is a business strategy.” Fencl agreed, adding that it’s critical to “take the time to plan and map a full, comprehensive journey,” which in turn can build organizational alignment and strengthen the culture.
- Identify force-multipliers. It’s important to recognize that not every good idea can — or should — be implemented, according to Fencl. Leaders must be “very intentional and selective on the ideas you want to bring forward and bring to life,” she added. “Look for ideas that align to the priorities of your marketing and clinical partners, and that extends up to the strategic priorities for the organization. Identify those ideas and opportunities that are digital in nature, that can be a force multiplier, and that truly create an expanded experience that may not have been thought of in the traditional sense.”
- Aim big, start small. Krush advised leaders to aim big, but start small. The first part entails choosing vendor partners wisely and making sure they can offer the support your team needs. Leaders should ‘start small’ by “choosing the least resistant path, getting some quick wins in terms of actual needs,” and from there, pursuing more complex scenarios.
Finally, it’s important to remember that when it comes to digital front door initiatives, it’s not about the technology, added Vengco. “It’s about business transformation. And that means that you have to bring the culture along. You have to have deep partnerships.” Once that’s accomplished, leaders can gain buy-in and start to address their biggest priorities, “which, at their core, are about making sure you give your consumers and patients what they need to stay healthy.”
To view the archive of this webinar — Enhancing the Digital Front Door Despite Today’s Labor Shortage by Automating Repetitive Tasks (Sponsored by Hyro) — please click here.