Digital front doors: a deep dive into this growing health care trend

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We have all traveled through the physical entrance of a doctor’s office or hospital. But if you have scheduled an appointment or checked in for an appointment online or through a mobile app, you have participated in a newer trend — the use of digital front doors.

A digital front door is a strategy health care institutions are employing to use technology to improve patient experiences and could be defined as “all the touchpoints where providers can digitally interact with patients to drive better access, engagement and experiences across the service continuum,” said Mutaz Shegewi, research director of IDC Insights, during a recent webinar hosted by Becker’s Hospital Review.

The idea is to replace or supplement tasks traditionally performed in person or manually, such as calling to schedule an appointment, with digital offerings. Depending on a health care entity’s offerings, consumers can use digital front doors to research care options, identify new providers and manage care delivery. Some platforms also allow patients to fill out forms, pay bills, and wait in the privacy of their car outside a traditional wait room until the provider is ready. In some cases, patients can receive all services without ever stepping foot into a physical facility.

The use of digital front doors is a trend journalists covering health IT (and health care in general) should be aware of. Reporters could find interesting stories about what hospitals are providing by way of digital front doors and/or interviewing patients who have used these services. Find out if they like these services and what process has been like. 

These tools have received increased attention from investors because of the benefits they can bring to health care systems overwhelmed by staff shortages. Technology funding for digital front doors reached a record high of $1.9 billion in 2021, up 67% year over year, according to a May 2 report by CB Insights, a tech market analytics firm. That figure is expected to grow more than 32% to surpass $2.5 billion by the end of this year. Why? Patient-facing technologies enabling asynchronous care, such as remote patient monitoring and patient engagement platforms, are driving this funding boom. 

Although the telehealth surge of 2020 has receded a bit, many providers and patients still expect virtual and remote care options to be available and easy to access, the report noted. Access to digital scheduling, provider profiles, and virtual care options have become the largest determining factors in a patient’s choice of provider, according to a patient satisfaction survey by Press Ganey, referenced in the CB Insights report.

Patient access was one of the top three concerns in health care (along with telehealth and artificial intelligence) with the greatest potential to be improved by digital health technology and innovation, according to a survey of chief information officers conducted by the Center for Connected Medicine and research firm KLAS. These statistics and more are featured in the center’s Top of Mind for Top Health Systems 2022 report, available for free download. 

The report included interviews with 72 leaders from 67 U.S. health systems. Some 55% said their organizations use some form of digital front door technology. Those who didn’t have one said it was on their radar for later implementation. But one caveat expressed by some respondents is while a digital front door is helpful for some, not all patients want to or can connect digitally. 

“We are currently integrating front door technology, but it isn’t the only front door,” one vice president said. “We need a blend of both the human center as well as the digital approach to provide patients with optimal choices.”

Hospitals and health systems have been employing digital front doors in different ways:

  • MedStar Health, headquartered in Columbia, Md., earlier this year launched a new patient experience platform through which consumers can use a mobile app or website to schedule appointments with primary care, urgent care or telehealth providers 24/7. They also can access medical records, see test results and physician ratings, register online to save time during check-in and receive appointment reminders.    
  • Piedmont Healthcare, a nonprofit, community health system in Georgia, began its digital front door journey in 2015, according to an article in Healthcare IT Today. The organization’s work included establishing a patient portal and mobile app to allow scheduling and other tasks. The mobile app has a wayfinding feature that can help patients navigate turn by turn through clinical buildings to their appointments. A call center also is available as a lower-tech option.
  • Maimonedes Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., had different applications at first for billing, scheduling, etc., but started to notice it was creating a situation in which patients had multiple accounts and passwords to interact with the health system, said Rob Cimino, vice president of digital health strategy and implementation at the hospital, during a recent webinar hosted by Becker’s Hospital Review. Last November, they launched their app and website, called MaimoCare. It serves as a central resource patients can use to participate in virtual visits, find a doctor, view upcoming and previous appointments, access and pay bills, access medical records, communicate with care teams and more. 

Digital front door strategies still have room to grow, the Center for Connected Medicine’s report noted. For example, only a handful of respondents to their survey said they use a virtual concierge service or are in the process of implementing one to help point patients to the correct venue to receive care. And only 17% said their organization uses a patient financial experience vendor for services such as setting up and managing payment plans and accepting payments by text from customers. Price transparency tools to help customers avoid surprise bills also could be better incorporated, according to the report.

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