Over the last couple of decades, the healthcare industry has undergone a digital transformation. What used to be a simple but lengthy patient journey of office visits, follow-up appointments, phone calls, and waiting for results has been transformed by digital technology.
Today’s patient experience is one of online appointment scheduling, quick and easy patient access to lab results and medical advice, and healthcare services that can be provided without even leaving one’s home.
This new form of patient experience is called the “Digital Front Door.” It represents a radical shift in the healthcare experience. While in-person interaction will never be completely replaced, this new experience allows care teams to assist patients 24 hours a day, no matter where they may be.
So what are the components of this amazing digital front door to medical care? How do all those pieces fit together to improve patient outcomes? Let’s take a look at how healthcare providers are opening this digital front door, and where this technology is headed in the future.
What Led to the Creation Of the Digital Front Door?
Many people are old enough to remember what accessing care was like before the innovation of the healthcare provider's digital front door. It’s important to see what things were like, and what led to the change.
Scheduling Appointments by Phone
Patients would usually begin an interaction with a phone call to their primary care provider’s office. This would often result in long hold times.
Once on the phone with a scheduler, they could make an appointment. If that appointment needed to be changed, the whole process would need to be repeated.
In-Person Appointments for Simple Issues
Most visits to the doctor are, thankfully, for simple problems. This means that they’ll have spent a great deal of time in a waiting area, then with a nurse, and finally with a doctor to receive some relatively simple advice. Doctors wondered if there might be a more efficient way of screening for simple problems so they could concentrate on more serious ones.
Difficulty in Accessing Lab Results
While bloodwork results are primarily for the use of physicians in diagnosing and treating diseases and other health issues, patients want to take ownership of this information as well.
Prior to the advent of the digital front door, viewing lab results would involve calling the doctor’s office and requesting that results be faxed to the patient. This, of course, would depend on whether or not they even had their own fax machine!
Difficulty in Asking Follow-Up Questions
Receiving a diagnosis of a disease, regardless of the severity, leads to many questions on the part of the patient and their family. The more serious the health concern, the more questions about care, prognosis, and more.
Before the digital front door, patients would have to call their doctor's office. This often meant being placed on hold or leaving a message for the doctor, who is often with another patient. Waiting for a returned call leads to more anxiety on the part of the patient.
Enter the Digital Transformation
Without the constant progress of technology, the above scenarios would likely still be true. Thankfully the healthcare sector decided to embrace a digital front-door strategy as technology allowed for it.
Secure messaging, online scheduling, and the use of call centers have all changed the patient experience for the better. Of course, it doesn’t stop there, so let’s take a look at some of the marvelous ways that information technology (IT) components of the digital front door strategy are addressing patient needs in a way never before thought possible.
The Patient Portal
Providing easy access points to patients as they are seeking care is at the core of the digital front door strategy. The phone used to be the primary entry point. Now, the digital front door is wherever they are, whether it’s on a mobile device like an iPhone or Android; a tablet like an iPad, or on their computer.
Patient portals are where they can access nearly every component of their care delivery. It may include everything they need, except for actual in-person care. Let’s look at what a typical digital front door looks like.
No More Waiting Room for Urgent Care
Waiting is one of the worst parts of traditional care. Digital platforms are making the waiting room a thing of the past. Forming a digital queue means that patients can do whatever they wish, and come to the urgent care or emergency department for immediate care.
Patients bring up the app and can utilize digital symptom checkers to assess the severity of their situation. This helps direct patients to the right source of care. They may be given simple pre-populated advice, or given the option of holding a spot in the virtual queue for urgent care. When their time arrives, they proceed to the care facility to be seen nearly immediately.
Payments are a Breeze
Navigating the maze of co-pays, deductibles, and amounts not covered by insurance is confusing enough. Waiting for paper bills to arrive, and having to call multiple parties only compounds the frustration involved in this process.
With the digital front door, patients can access and pay bills immediately. They can make billing inquiries through the messaging tools provided on the app.
Easy Scheduling and Rescheduling
Making an appointment with a primary care provider couldn’t be easier with the digital front door. Patients can simply view the online availability calendar and pick the appointment that works for them. If something comes up, they can easily revisit the portal and select a different date.
This is a benefit to healthcare organizations as well. The difficulty and inconvenience of calling in to change or cancel appointments often leads to a high no-show rate. This inconveniences doctors and patients alike.
When it’s easy to interact with scheduling, it’s easy for patients to let the providers know they won’t be coming, and that spot opens for someone else.
Teamwork and Communication
The digital front door strategy isn’t the only change in medicine. Doctor’s offices used to consist of a much smaller staff. There was often a doctor, a nurse and a receptionist. Today’s larger medical groups have doctors that work together to provide care.
There are also different levels of nurses, from vocational nurses who perform tasks like intake, then registered nurses who administer care. On top of that are nurse practitioners and physician assistants who can actually perform some diagnostics and even prescribe medication.
Integrating this team approach with the digital front door is a huge benefit to patients. There was often a huge lag between when patients would reach out to a doctor, who would typically be seeing other patients, and when the doctor could return a call.
With the team approach, the various levels of nurses, assistants, and doctors that make up the team can answer questions and direct care nearly instantaneously.
Given the regulatory framework of laws like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), it would be nearly impossible for this ease of communication without the advent of secure messaging. This is one of the core IT components of the digital front door.
The patient portal includes a messaging app that supports full encryption. It’s also logged and monitored to prevent any abuse and provide a trail of what advice was given.
In fact, many healthcare providers prefer communicating this way because if their care directions are ignored, they can have evidence of the fact that they gave particular advice on a particular day.
Typically, the secure messages sent go to a team inbox for review and triage. If a patient sends a message asking for a prescription refill, it can be directed directly to the local pharmacy. A patient with a general, non-urgent concern can be forwarded to the doctor for review later, and a reply sent that the message is received and the doctor will contact them later.
A more urgent concern can be followed up with an immediate phone call, or instructions to proceed to the emergency room.
IT Components of the Digital Front Door
The capabilities and use cases for the digital front door strategy are fairly clear. Behind the scenes, though, are a host of digital innovations that are integral to making the digital front door a reality.
Electronic Health Records
The days of shelf after shelf of manila file folders, stacked thick with paper records are long gone. Regulatory requirements and best practices dictate that medical records must be kept for years after a patient encounter. This leads to a couple of problems. The first is the massive physical space required for storing years of records. The second is being able to search those records.
Electronic health records take up only virtual space. With modern cloud strategies, nearly endless amounts of records can be stored indefinitely and securely.
When healthcare organizations store vast amounts of records, they also collect massive amounts of data points. Office visits, vital signs, lab results, symptoms, and more can help predict and diagnose disease faster and improve patient outcomes.
The scale of data collected is far beyond what human beings can assess. Through machine learning and artificial intelligence, health trends can be spotted earlier and more accurately. When you combine this with the increase in the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices that constantly collect additional data, the potential for understanding the current and future state of someone’s health becomes much more feasible.
New applications are being developed that work in the cloud to monitor health data and make intelligent predictions. The trends aren’t just useful for individual diagnosis. They can be collectivized for a broader interpretation of the state of the health of a community as well.
As stated above, the amount of health data is exploding far beyond the reach of paper records or even on-premises servers. Even smaller private practices may want to leverage some of the machine-learning aspects of the digital revolution.
Through the use of cloud computing, end users, regardless of size, can take advantage of advanced analytics powered by sophisticated and powerful processors. Health data can be combed for signs of disease and to craft individualized treatment plans.
The hybrid cloud is also an essential part of medicine’s digital front door. Regulations may mandate keeping certain private health information (PHI) on-premises. Combining physical servers on-site and new edge computing technology allows for this to happen.
Encryption is vital to the use of this new technology. Information needs to be secure both at rest in data centers and in transit. Compliance with all regulations is a must. Encryption standards and techniques have made this possible. Vigilance is key to preventing ransomware attacks and other intrusions.
Healthcare IT Professionals
The field of healthcare IT is growing exponentially. These professional developers, architects, and problem solvers are helping to consistently improve and innovate the patient digital front door experience.
They are imagining new features and making them possible. At the same time, they are monitoring the cybersecurity threat matrix to ensure that systems are hardened against cyber attacks.
The Digital Front Door - Improving Patient Outcome and Experience
Staying healthy and living a long life is largely driven by the individual. One of the main drivers of long-term health is a good relationship with healthcare providers. The digital front door is making that relationship smoother and more productive than ever.
Want to learn how Cloudticity can help you optimize your digital front door by adopting the public cloud? Schedule a free consultation today.