For a health system's digital front door to work, it needs to enable the full spectrum of a patient's digital experience, from scheduling and referrals, virtual care, digital symptom checks and online check-ins. That means the processes behind those functions must be connected and aligned – not just technologically, but operationally.
Here are five best practices that can help you get there:
Reach internal alignment across essential business units and stakeholder groups
Your digital front door is not simply a marketing project, or an IT project, or a clinical one – it requires all those functions to work together to deliver a holistic, patient-centered digital experience that is tied to your broader growth and business strategies.
Total leadership alignment on access is the biggest thing you can do; it means bringing physicians to the table to agree to create evidence-based access standards, as well as the willingness of financial leadership to invest in patient access as a growth lever and not a cost center. The ideal governance structure is one in which providers are supported in creating a clinical standard they can all buy into collectively, rather than each individual setting their own sets of requirements (or administrators being in the difficult position of telling clinicians what's best for their patients).
Having a provider's voice in the mix is important to ensure that the access and appointment standards your governance team creates are aimed at optimal safety and the best clinical outcomes for your patients. It's all about balance, about making sure that standards are based first and foremost on clinical need (rather than convenience). With universal standards as your basis, conversations about exceptions and potential changes to your enterprise-wide rules can be grounded in data and compared to actual outcomes.
Establish collaborative governance processes
This ensures clinicians, access center, operations, marketing, IT and others are working together. For instance, it's a great idea to have a physician champion represented in the governance structure, to act as an advocate for clinicians and help with understanding and buy-in. Having a clinical voice at the governance table ensures that the collective voice of your providers is heard and that their perspective is integral to the initiatives that are put forth.
Create the right incentives and define success
For example, you can't say your focus is on patient experience while being laser focused on cost per call and call handle time. And you can't say your focus is on keeping calls short (and cost-effective), while also requiring your agents to ask patients multiple questions before an appointment slot is even offered (e.g., because you are focused on denial avoidance).
Understand the cost of the investment, in both money and time
Recognize that a digital front door isn't built overnight – it's a long-term strategic investment that must be constructed, maintained and constantly adjusted.
These are competing notions that lead to fragmented experiences. Leadership and governance from the very top need to break the tie to say, for instance, “We care more about experience than how long our calls go” or “We care more about getting patients in than avoiding a denial at all costs.” Critically, once you do make those decisions, align incentives and define success, you've got to be clear about how you'll measure it.
Constantly ask yourself questions to improve your digital front door
Is the digital front door creating the experiences it's designed to create? Are those experiences sufficiently connected, both technologically and operationally? Is the status quo acceptable?
Get started today
It can be overwhelming to look at everything that goes into making a successful digital front door. But getting started doesn't have to be daunting. Try picking a particular process (like scheduling a routine care appointment) that needs to be enabled by your digital front door, then build on lessons learned from implementing it. Don't forget, too, to leverage your EHR where you can; but as you do, make sure to take the time to optimize their systems and configurations to get the most out of your investment.
Along the way, remember to take steps to modify and align your operating model, constantly assess what patients want (i.e., through data analytics), and develop growth strategies and plans that connect business goals with digital experience goals. This way, you'll be able to make the most out of your technology investments and, ultimately, maximize reimbursements and optimize your revenue cycle.
Given the lasting disruptions stemming from the pandemic, an effective, seamless digital front door isn't just a value-add – it's a necessity. Do it well and you'll create key competitive advantages, deliver better patient experiences, improve patient acquisition and retention and increase revenue for years to come.