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Originally published July 19, 2023 by HealthIT Answers.

Have you searched for something on a company’s website, then given up and called to speak to a customer service representative when you couldn’t find the answers you were looking for? This experience is all too common – especially in healthcare. Since 2020, digital front doors (DFDs) have become increasingly popular. And with the healthcare staff shortage projected to continue, and even worsen, until 2025, digital entry points into healthcare for patients are more important than ever.

But for too many patients, these “front doors” are broken and far too difficult to navigate – leaving them either without care or forced to navigate their own entrance into the health system. Technology can be a powerful way to improve healthcare equity and patient access, but a dysfunctional digital front door can create more hurdles for patients. Health systems and clinics must evaluate the true effectiveness of their digital strategy to care for as many patients as possible, more equitably, with fewer staff.

The Great Patient Disconnect

I’ve spoken to many health systems who struggle with having provided patients with digital options to connect, but coming up short when these channels and digital front doors don’t seem to be making a difference. This is the “Great Patient Disconnect,” where both patients and providers are engaged in the healthcare journey and have digital tools available, but still struggle to connect.

For many organizations, the primary digital front door available to the organization remains the patient portal. According to the United States Government Accountability Office, however, while 90% of organizations reported that despite offering a patient portal, only about a third of patients use them. It’s clear that this “front door” is insufficient for patients who expect and need more accessible digital touch points across the healthcare journey.

Barriers to patient adoption or effective use can include:

These barriers contribute to this “front door” being accessible to only a subset of patients. For healthcare organizations who provide care to diverse patient populations, not only do these disparities make healthcare access less equitable, but they increase the number of patients who need to request care via phone calls with already overburdened staff.

Despite the relatively low adoption of patient portals, patients of varied backgrounds are motivated to use technology to engage with their care. Data from the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation’s National Poll on Healthy Aging highlights that 75% of surveyed adults aged 50-80 reported having a patient portal, and 85% of those patients reported using it in the last six months.

Meanwhile, patients indicate that the technology offerings available, like patient portals and digital front doors, are not always meeting their needs. A recent meta-analysis shows, for example, that although patients want self-scheduling and self-scheduling has significant benefits, healthcare organizations’ adoption of it remains low – with one of the primary barriers to adoption being the perception that patients would be hesitant to self-schedule.

Modern consumers have access to great digital experiences nearly everywhere they turn. These broken, underused digital front doors are no longer a viable option to serve patients – who need and expect to easily connect with their care in the channel of their choice.

We need to deliver an omnichannel digital continuum

The Great Patient Disconnect shows that a digital front door is no longer the right framework to meet patients where they are. A front door alone isn’t enough – patients need an omnichannel digital continuum that orchestrates all the points of their journey, not just bits and pieces of it.

According to Stacy Porter, VP of Digital at University Hospitals, “We need to move away from ‘random acts of digital’ to truly empower our patients to be successful.” At University Hospitals, every aspect of the patient journey, from digital to in-person, has been designed to avoid gaps, frustrations, and barriers and instead provide an orchestrated experience.

If you’re concerned that your digital strategy could fall prey to “random acts of digital” and contribute to the Great Patient Disconnect, how can you solve potential issues in the continuum to meet patients – your customers – where they are? Look for points of disconnection like:

If you’re seeing more than one of these pain points, it’s time to reevaluate your digital front door and move to an omnichannel digital continuum.

Attributes of an effective, equitable omnichannel digital continuum

An omnichannel digital continuum considers each interaction a patient has with your organization and creates an orchestrated journey across those interactions.

According to Jeff Johnson, VP Innovation and Digital Business at Banner Health, “We can’t just be a healthcare company that does some digital interactions. We must be a digital company.” Banner Health designs every consumer interaction with ‘Patient Sofia,’ their patient archetype, in mind – from finding care to the experience in the hospital and beyond.

What does a digital strategy look like when corrected from “random acts of digital” to an omnichannel digital continuum? Key attributes include:

One key factor in an effective omnichannel digital continuum is making it truly omnichannel – accounting for the communication preferences of a wide variety of patients. Most patients love the option for text or web interactions, but some don’t. Plan ahead for these preferences and ensure that patients have the flexibility to successfully get to the next step in their journeys, whether they use all or only some of your digital tools. For example, offer an automated option for a callback or a switch to SMS to patients who might have called despite preferring SMS or web. Doing so can free up your staff to address calls from patients who prefer them.

Finally, digital front doors can be improved by proactively asking for, then acting on, patient feedback regarding the digital options they want and need. The Great Patient Disconnect is exacerbated when patients can’t reach you, then quietly resort to another method or even go elsewhere for their care. By recognizing that simply having a digital front door doesn’t necessarily solve patient access challenges, and a more comprehensive digital continuum is a must, you’re already on your way to creating a better experience for both patients and staff.

Originally published July 13, 2023 on Physicians Practice.

Staffing shortages. For the last few years, this dreaded phrase has become an all-too-familiar reality. The health care staff shortage is projected to continue, and even worsen, until 2025. Meanwhile, a recent Guidehouse Center for Health Insights report states that 95% of health system executives are expecting outpatient volumes to increase this year.

To weather these contrasting trends, establishing omnichannel digital entry points for patients is more crucial than ever to save your team time, resources and energy — as well as to create a coordinated continuum across the patient journey.

But difficult-to-navigate digital tools and the lack of capabilities that patients really need can create a conundrum where both patients and providers want to connect but struggle to do so despite existing patient engagement tools.

The Great Patient Disconnect

It’s more important than ever for practices to be able to effectively leverage their digital patient engagement and communication tools to lessen the burden on staff. Many are still recovering financially from the COVID-19 pandemic on top of current budget constraints and expiring pandemic-era funding, and are struggling to staff enough people to reach patients by phone.

Meanwhile, with limited staff, practices are following up on care missed during the pandemic, competing in a crowded health care market, caring for large numbers of attributed patients and more.

I’ve spoken to representatives of many health systems who are dissatisfied with their digital strategy. They’ve invested in platforms or solutions to make engagement easier for patients but still deal with high call rates, no-shows and low portal adoption. This is the “great patient disconnect,” where both patients and providers are engaged in the health care journey and have digital tools available, but still struggle to connect.

Despite 71% of providers reporting that patient engagement is a high priority at their practice, data from CDW Healthcare notes that just 29% of patients said they would give their providers an A in patient engagement. And while 90% of organizations offer a patient portal, overall the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that only about a third of patients use them.

This disconnect can impact both patients’ care journeys and the effectiveness of the practice. For example, if pre-visit instructions or other important information are primarily accessible in the patient portal, patients without the portal may not be prepared for their appointments or recognize that it’s time for a follow-up visit. Meanwhile, if patients struggle to access the digital tools you provide, more pressure is placed on overburdened staff to reach them via outbound phone calls.

Addressing the disconnect and improving patient-provider communication

The good news is that patients want to engage with their providers using digital tools. The ubiquity of consumer-focused apps for delivery, transportation, shopping and much more shows that consumers will consistently use a simple and intuitive digital experience. In health care, many of the hurdles that create a patient-provider disconnect are caused not by a lack of engaged patients, but by patients not having access to the tools they need.

Recent KLAS Research data, for example, show that patients often want different tools to connect with their providers, such as self-scheduling and online bill pay, from what their providers are currently offering. Even if a patient accesses your website or patient portal, if they can’t get to an actionable next step, they are likely to call in instead, contributing to the burden on staff. But these patients should not be considered disengaged from their care; in fact, they are very much engaged.

Medical Group Management Association data show that about half of surveyed providers reported an increase in no-show rates between 2021 and 2022, attributed in part to long wait times for an appointment and the cost of appointments. But the 12% of providers who reported their no-show rates were going down cited digital reminders and digital check-in options as some of the reasons for the decline. These responses indicate that accessible digital options can help patients get to your organization and get the care they need.

I believe three factors are key to helping patients better connect with you using digital tools:

Considering these factors can help you identify inefficiencies or pain points that might be quietly contributing to the great patient disconnect and increasing the burden on your staff to bridge that gap manually.

Examples of effective digital strategies that bridge the disconnect

With a focus on solving potential points of disconnection, it’s possible to create patient journeys that are smoother and more streamlined and help you and your patients get more out of digital tools, creating a digital continuum of care.

In a challenging health care environment, it’s critical that we go beyond simply staffing more people to call centers or lamenting low engagement rates or high no-shows. Digital solutions can mitigate these challenges, address barriers to care and streamline staff capacity. To do so effectively, they must be driven by a patient-centered approach that identifies digital dead ends and points of disconnection and creates a unified digital continuum so patients and providers can get to the moment of care more quickly and easily.

Digital front door. Before 2020, this phrase was relatively obscure in the healthcare landscape, jumping to the collective forefront when the COVID-19 pandemic drove providers to adapt quickly to digital care options. Three years later, the digital front door is here to stay, promising to: 

Digital front doors (DFDs) can be best defined as a digital platform with one or more of the following features: a portal, mobile app, provider directory, symptom checker, or patient scheduling. 

When a DFD works well, it seamlessly connects your communication, outreach, scheduling, and patient information, working in the background while your team provides in-person care. 

But what happens when a DFD strategy falls short?  Luma’s team of product experts share how to analyze your DFD experience, identify the areas for improvement, and move forward towards greater patient success.

Step 1: How to Identify Broken Digital Front Doors

According to the United States Government Accountability Office, 90% of organizations reported offering a patient portal, but only about a third of patients use them. When you’re doing everything “right,” but still lack patient connection, it can be frustrating to troubleshoot yet another solution. 

When a DFD is broken, you may experience:

The Trap Door: Trap doors bring patients in, then let them fall through the floor, resulting in patient frustration and need for additional, resource-consuming follow-up. Typically, the trap door is not a full platform experience. Instead, if this sounds like your organization, you might be using point solutions such as:

The Side Door:  Side doors occur when patients try to get in touch differently than the organization prefers, creating uncontrolled costs, overworked staff, and a fragmented patient experience. You might have a side door issue at your organization if you have:

The Rusted Door: Rusted doors occur when getting through the digital front door is too difficult for patients, resulting in low adoption and the organizational belief that patients don’t want or need digital tools. If this sounds like your organization, you might have: 

Step 2: How to Mend your Broken DFD

Broken digital front doors create frustrating bottlenecks for patients and staff, resulting in lower adoption of digital tools and a reliance on human capital to smooth the gaps. With healthcare staff reporting higher levels of burnout and sky-rocketing operating costs, you need solutions that work quickly, efficiently, and effectively. 

Here are four solutions for mending a broken system, plus discussion questions to prompt further action: 

Ensure Omnichannel Scheduling is available for every context

Different patients use different channels. Meeting, guiding, and transitioning from one channel to the next is the difference between a digital dead end and a seamless experience.

Luma Solution: Patient Self-Scheduling

Digging Deeper:

Simplify appointment management workflows

Life happens at the last minute. Making it easy for patients to cancel and reschedule while letting other patients know an earlier time is available creates two five-star reviews. 

Luma Solution: Smart Waitlist

Digging Deeper:

Increase intake ease and efficiency using digital options

Starting on the right track shouldn’t be a pain. Collecting necessary info up front means no wasted time for patients and providers – making it digital means fewer errors and potential back and forth. 

Luma Solution: Intake Forms

Digging Deeper:

Prepare in advance for patient customization

Each appointment type and patient have their nuances. Helping the patient complete tasks and follow important directions before their appointment increases the value for both the patient and the provider. 

Luma Solution: Appointment Reminders

Digging Deeper: 

Step 3: Further Resources

Our Luma product experts share solutions for fixing broken DFDs in this timely webinar. Or schedule a 1:1 consultation with a Luma product expert today.