Distinguishing Your Healthcare Organization—Digitally: 3 Considerations for Leaders

digital medical

By Joshua Titus

Some experts predict that telehealth’s bubble burst. Others say hospitals have “slowed their roll” when it comes to digital innovation, with most opting for incremental steps toward creating their digital playbook rather than sweeping changes.

But pulling back from digital innovation would be a mistake for hospitals and health systems at a time when threats from well-resourced digital disruptors are on the uptick. Rather, healthcare leaders should consider: “How can we take our digital experience to the next level—and what resources will it take to get there?”

It’s an important question at a time when 50% of consumers say a bad digital experience can ruin the entire experience with a provider. Further, a December 2021 survey shows 43% of consumers want to engage digitally with healthcare providers before, during and after visits. 

How can healthcare providers not only sustain the gains they made in digital engagement during Covid-19, but also make the right investments for more satisfying digital experiences without breaking the bank? Here are three key considerations for leaders.

1. Look for ways to leverage digital to strengthen specific entry points to care.

Healthcare leaders around the globe overwhelmingly agree: Digital health offerings should be integrated with existing services (77%), according to a McKinsey & Company survey. But applying the best digital solution to each aspect of the patient journey—rather than incorporating digital for digital’s sake—is what differentiates digital leaders from the rest of the pack. 

One place to start: Invest in best-in-class digital options for urgent care, finding a physician, self-scheduling and wayfinding, high-use services that satisfy consumers’ immediate needs and strengthen their impression of the organization. Then, test these offerings with employees and refine them before rolling them out to the public. At WakeMed Health & Hospitals, Raleigh, N.C., an employee-first approach generated positive feedback that ultimately helped drive high consumer engagement. Today, the health system’s digital health platform attracts 6,000 active users a month, with one-in-three consumers relying on the health system’s mobile app for wayfinding services and to find a physician.

2. Create a digital hand-holding experience throughout the patient journey.

For hospitals, the best digital solutions serve as a digital companion at every point in the healthcare experience, from parking to the point of care and beyond. These solutions tie together all of an organization’s consumer-facing digital elements within a single platform—from online scheduling to reserving a spot in urgent care to accessing medical records via smartphone. They also use location-aware technologies for wayfinding as well as for patient throughput. Every destination in the patient’s encounter is mapped out on their phone from one point to the next, eliminating the stress of navigating complex hospital environments. 

After the encounter, a well-integrated digital platform continues building on the care connections established. For instance, after undergoing a heart bypass procedure, a patient can easily search for a cardiac rehabilitation center from the hospital’s mobile app, receive a dozen in-network options for care, choose the location closest to home, schedule an appointment and receive step-by-step directions to the rehab facility. It’s an experience that feels self-directed, yet takes place within the health system’s digital network, strengthening patient retention and revenue.

At the start of the pandemic, Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta leveraged its mobile app to deploy targeted push notifications that let residents know where and how to seek care, how to enter its facilities and who would be allowed inside. Later, push notifications became a vital tool in communicating availability of the Covid-19 vaccine and enabling residents to schedule their appointment online. Wayfinding services then directed patients from their home to the vaccine distribution site on the day of their appointment.

“The time and effort we put into designing Piedmont’s mobile app enables patients and families to feel confident in arriving at any destination in our system,” says Katie Logan, vice president of experience for Piedmont Healthcare. “It also ensures that consumers will find value in our digital front door beyond the day of their visit.”

3. Choose a platform, not an app.

This gives hospitals and health systems the flexibility to add new functionality and services as consumers’ needs or circumstances change. It also ensures organizations can proactively respond to shifts in demand for service and information, positioning organizations as a trusted resource in a rapidly evolving environment.

For instance, in 2019, when University Health in San Antonio embarked on plans to open a new women’s and children’s hospital in 2023, leaders decided to invest in a comprehensive digital platform. While the health system already had a wayfinding app, the move toward a digital platform would lay a foundation for meeting consumers’ needs in a digital-first environment. Early features included digital services that simplified scheduling and made it easy for patients to access their health information or view wait times. Over time, University Health added virtual triage, telehealth, push notifications and more.

“We view investment in a dynamic, highly responsive digital platform as an investment in our future,” says Selene Mejia, digital marketing manager for University Health. “With this solution, we can reach patients with the resource they consult the most—their smartphone.”

Differentiating on the Digital Experience

For healthcare organizations, developing the right digital offering presents a strong opportunity for growth and competitive positioning. At a time when most organizations are pursuing incremental changes to their digital strategy, prioritizing a tightly integrated, highly agile digital platform will position hospitals to provide the experience consumers crave in 2022 and beyond.

Joshua Titus is CEO and founder of Gozio Health.