How Welcoming Is Your Digital Front Door?: Forward-thinking Specialty Practices Are Reimagining The Care Experience

Terrence Sims

By Terrence D. Sims, president of strategic growth and marketing, Raintree Systems.

Among the many lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic was that most patients are more than willing – dare we say eager? – to interact with their healthcare providers digitally. When safety concerns limited their ability to see their physicians, therapists or other care providers in person, patients enthusiastically embraced virtual visits. And from all indications, they liked the convenience so much that they want to continue taking advantage of this option.

Easy access to telehealth services is just one of the many ways patients are eager to connect online with healthcare providers. In fact, an Accenture survey found that 60% of patients reported that based on their experience using new technologies during the pandemic, they want to use technology more to communicate with their care providers and manage their health.

Even before the coronavirus upended life, patients were increasingly expecting to manage their care digitally – from scheduling appointments, to messaging their care team, to refilling medications, to paying bills. After all, that’s how most of us manage most other aspects of our lives these days, whether it’s travel, banking or shopping.

Healthcare still has a ways to go to catch up with the efficient digital experience other sectors offer. Nearly 60% of U.S. consumers expect their healthcare digital customer experience to be similar to retail, but 62% said they were unable to accomplish their healthcare goals online, according to a NTT DATA study.

Healthcare organizations of all sizes need to better meet these digital expectations to attract patients and earn their loyalty. That means it’s increasingly important to develop and implement a comprehensive digital patient engagement strategy, a.k.a., a digital front door. Whether you’re a specialty OT, PT or SLP practice, a specialty clinic or a large health care system, your digital front door serves as an entryway to all online services and experiences available to your patients for interacting with your office and care providers.

Wondering how to get started or what steps you can take to accelerate your efforts? Here are five recommendations:

  1. Think beyond the patient portal. An existing patient portal is an excellent starting point, since many of your patients will already be familiar with using it. But overall portal adoption remains a challenge, so your digital front door shouldn’t rely solely on the portal. A mobile app is increasingly a must-have, since mobile devices are the most popular way to access information online. Whichever channels you use, make sure they provide a single point of easy access to all self-service tools and information. Asking patients to access multiple siloed systems or third-party platforms separately only breeds frustration.
  2. Make self-service opportunities plentiful and simple to use. More than three-quarters of patients consider it important to be able to book, cancel or change an appointment online, according to Accenture. They also want to be able to handle scheduling, pre-register for an appointment or pay bills whenever they want, which frequently means outside of regular business hours. An added bonus is that centralized, digital self-scheduling and check-in can free up staff to handle other matters, boosting productivity and streamlining front-desk operations. Other digital tools such as a patient dashboard and self-check-in kiosk enable patients to proactively fill out paperwork, update their medical history, check in virtually for appointments and pay bills. Another option is to provide QR codes in parking lots or on signs for patients to scan and check in from their mobile devices.
  3. Implement a versatile digital platform. Select an all-in-one virtual platform that provides the opportunity to engage as well as collaborate with patients, providers, referral sources and payors in multiple ways. At Raintree Systems, our customizable Connect™ platform offers embedded telehealth solutions and supports secure messaging via HIPAA-compliant blast emails, text notifications and treatment outcomes, along with digital intake and scheduling, patient engagement, and data collection and analytics.
  4. Use patient feedback to improve the care experience. Business intelligence and analytics can provide actionable insights for strengthening patient engagement, bolstering patient satisfaction and empowering patients in care decision-making. Technology solutions that feature automated survey distribution and detailed reporting can help you collect valuable patient feedback. For example, adding Net Promoter Score (NPS) to your surveys allows you to quantify the patient experience with a rating system and adapt your operations as necessary.
  5. Focus on building relationships. Done right, a digital front door provides easy, welcome access to tools that make life easier and better for patients and staff. It helps you strengthen valuable connections and build lasting relationships with your patients – every step of their health care journey.

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