By Dave Lovecchio, MBA, senior product manager, eVisit
If you attended HIMSS22 in Orlando, you heard the phrase “digital front door” ad nauseum. The renowned health information and technology event is always a great venue for some buzzword bingo, and this year “digital front door” was ticked off just about every attendee’s playing card.
As an employee of a virtual care platform provider, you would think I’d be ecstatic about the term’s newfound notoriety. Yes and no.
While I’m thrilled the concept is gaining traction and adoption, I’m also a bit concerned by the limited breadth and scope some in the industry have tied to the phrase. Establishing a digital connection between providers and patients is an essential component to improving patient experience, provider efficiency, and health outcomes. However, this entry point must extend beyond the front-end of the patient encounter.
To reduce patient leakage, I encourage providers to maintain connectivity and support regardless of where and how patients enter your environment – whether that’s a phone call, web search, or visit to the ER. Digital doorways, particularly those at the front-end, should facilitate and accelerate a provider’s ability to assess patients and navigate them to the most appropriate point of care – be it an urgent care center, virtual visit or online chat with a provider.
Digital as part of hybrid care delivery
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many providers to adopt telehealth and other digital technologies to provide alternate pathways to care to address capacity issues and control the spread of infection. This effort had the desired impact on crisis management, but also helped to accelerate the consumerism of healthcare. Patients were suddenly introduced to new digital methods of interacting with their healthcare providers, approaches they had become accustomed to years earlier in other service industries, and expectations changed forever.
According to McKinsey consumer and physician surveys, 60% of patients say virtual health is more convenient than in-person care, while 36% of providers find virtual care more convenient for themselves. A 2020 study by Accenture also showed that 26% of Americans said they’d be willing to change their health provider in exchange for a better digital experience.
Digital healthcare experiences have become increasingly popular with patients and providers for good reason. However, there are still large portions of the patient population that don’t prefer online interactions. There are also many care scenarios that can’t be adequately addressed in a virtual setting. Therefore, digital technology should be positioned to complement, extend, optimize, and facilitate traditional methods of care — not replace them.
Health providers should leverage digital and virtual tools to enable hybrid care delivery, providing customers with multiple touchpoints that appeal to convenience and preference while streamlining traditional care navigation.
Symptom assessment tools optimize triage
The use of symptom checker applications in conjunction with a virtual care solution at the digital front door has been shown to optimize care navigation, reduce provider burden, and optimize patient outcomes. This technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) based on input and validation from many medical professionals and thousands of evidence-based medical concepts to perform a preliminary symptom assessment of patients and generate a recommended triage level.
The ability to assess a patient’s condition ahead of a visit allows providers to offer personalized health services. This includes holistic care and triage options such as text to chat, video visits for non-urgent cases, or in-person visit recommendations. Symptom assessment technology can also help expedite prescription refills or mental health support that must be provided on the same day.
Another significant benefit to having a symptom checker at the digital front door is the ability to view the data provided in the application ahead of the visit. When integrated with electronic health records (EHRs), this reduces the amount of information providers need to manually enter into these systems, saving them time. This capability also allows providers to refer to the initial evidence on a patient’s health data to order additional tests prior to a consultation, which improves preparation and enhances the patient interaction.
The impact of a symptom checker on the care delivery process is clearly illustrated in a recent survey by Infermedica. The survey found that 20% of respondents who required medical consultation qualified to use telemedicine instead of an in-person visit. In a group planning to go to the ED prior to using a symptom checker, 12.8% decided to consult with a physician first and 5.1% stayed at home after using the tool. Among those who intended to seek medical consultation, 7% stayed at home and self-cared as advised by the symptom checker, helping patients safely avoid unnecessary trips to the ED.
Using digital and virtual platforms for downstream patient intervention
Beyond improving triage and serving as an alternate (and often preferred) vehicle for delivering care, digital and virtual technologies can also have a significant impact on downstream aspects of the patient journey. For example, AI and machine learning can assess patient medical histories and abnormalities with existing care plans to identify care gaps. Digital platforms can then be leveraged for patient intervention via a variety of modalities such as reminder emails, text messages, or provider phone calls.
Advanced technologies like AI/ML and other digital technologies can also be instrumental in coordinating post-discharge and in-home care. These tools can be used to identify appropriate care providers based on specialty and capacity, initiate and accelerate referrals, establish appointments, and determine optimal mediums for care delivery.
Much of the healthcare industry has demonstrated a shortsighted focus when it comes to the digital front door. Strategies that focus only on front-end (and wholly digital) interactions are incomplete. End-to-end technologies exist that enable progressive providers to deliver an optimal patient experience, regardless of channel.
About the author
Dave Lovecchio is a senior product manager at eVisit, the leading enterprise care delivery platform for large health systems and hospitals. Dave has years of healthcare experience solving problems and delivering solutions in the medical device and pharmaceutical spaces. He received his MBA to double down on his commitment to better understand complex problems and the best ways to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. When he’s not doing this, he enjoys do-it-yourself home improvement projects, coaching baseball, mentoring, cooking, and staying active.