What Is the Digital Front Door in Healthcare?
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry is set to change like never before.
I think most of us can attest to feeling like there are two versions of ourselves - the us before the pandemic and the us after.
The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the world and fundamentally changed the way we live and work, and some of these changes will change the course of our future.
There's perhaps no industry as radically impacted by the pandemic as healthcare. And what's true for us is true for the healthcare industry, too - The healthcare industry of 2019 is not the same industry we're interacting with today. The landscape has changed. Consumer expectations have changed.
But where does this leave us? And what will the future of medicine look like?
In short, the future of medicine is a seamless digital experience where the patient's wants and needs are at the forefront.
In this piece, we're going to explore:
- What the digital front door is
- And how disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, conversational AI, natural language processing, and adaptive communications are shaping the way we engage with healthcare.
What Is the Digital Front Door?
There's seemingly no end to the new buzzwords we have to learn every year in the tech world.
However, not all buzzwords are created equal.
The digital front door represents a radical shift towards a new and permanent way of managing the patient experience. Much like the invention of the steam engine, the light bulb, and electricity, some technological advancements split the world into before and after. The digital front door is one such advancement.
The digital front door is an omnichannel customer engagement strategy aimed at using technology to improve the patient experience at every touchpoint in the consumer journey. It represents all the ways that medical providers interact digitally with patients outside the point of care. We'll get into the specifics later, but first, we need to understand how we got here.
A Quick History Tour of Medical Meets Digital
While digital technology has long played a role in medicine, up until recently, it has primarily been relegated to the operations side. Even then, the digital rollout was much more modest than in other industries. For example, a recent survey found that only 7% of healthcare companies said they had gone digital.
However, while traditional healthcare organizations were busy being traditional, health-based startups started to shake things up on the consumer side.
It began in the 1980s with bicycle monitors that could track speed, duration, and distance. Heart-rate monitors were also commercially available in the 1980s, although mainly only used by athletes. At the turn of the Millenium, consumer health and wellness devices exploded into the public consciousness. In the last 20 years, we've seen an abundance of consumer wellness products like:
- Smart Watches that track everything from steps to heart rate to blood-oxygen levels.
- Earbuds that can monitor your temperature (ears give a more accurate reading than other body parts!)
- Apps! So many apps. You can get fitness apps that track your calories in and out and help you track your activity, like MyFitnessPal. Apps that help you sleep, such as SleepCycle. Apps that help you relax with meditation, like Headspace. And apps that help women manage menstruation and fertility, like Flo.
- Habit trackers that empower users to take control of their wellness-based goals like drinking more water, walking more, reading, or meditating.
The boom in consumer wellness products has changed the way we view healthcare. In the past, people saw health as much more passive. You just went about your life, and if you got sick, you saw a doctor. Today, health is very much seen as something you actively manage yourself. Big data has played an enormous role in making this shift possible. Without the advancements in data science that allow our devices to collect, crunch, and analyze vast amounts of data, we wouldn't have the products we know and love today.
Okay, so consumers today are much more engaged with health and wellness and expect to interact with health digitally, but that's just one-half of the picture.
The other half is the bar that has been set by companies like Amazon, Apple, and Netflix. These tech giants offer exceptional end-to-end digital experiences. Due to how popular these services are, consumers have come to expect the same digital experiences in other areas of their lives. People expect convenience, speed, and personalization, whether shopping for a new mattress online or booking a doctor's appointment.
What Is the Digital Front Door in Healthcare? The Specifics
This is where we get into the details of what a digital front door looks like on the ground. A digital front door should optimize the patient journey at every touchpoint, allowing consumers to interact with healthcare providers in the way they prefer. A considerable element of this is rolling out digital experiences that have a low barrier to entry. We mean digital products that consumers know how to use because they already use them every day. Even the most beautiful app won't get far if people don't know how to use it.
Instead, the digital front door focuses on seamless, frictionless, and value-added technology. Interacting with health care providers can often be stressful (most people only see a doctor when something is wrong), so all digital solutions should aim to minimize stress through technological functionality. With that in mind, let's take a look at what implementing the digital front door looks like in healthcare.
Conversational AI in Healthcare
Artificial intelligence has boomed in recent years, and seemingly no industry is left untouched. Well, healthcare is no exception. AI and healthcare can go hand in hand, and one of the most exciting developments in this area is conversational AI.
Here's what you need to know about conversational AI:
- Conversational AI platforms use Natural Language Processing, a technology that uses algorithms to interpret (truly understand) what humans are saying.
- It can understand the intent behind the message, even when the human hasn't overtly expressed something.
- Conversational AI can use 'state' and 'context' to tailor responses and find appropriate answers. For state, the AI will use the information the user has already shared in the conversation. For example, if the user told the AI they work 9 am to 5 pm in the week, the conversational interface can prioritize doctor's appointments outside this window when presenting options. Context can refer to any information the AI already has about the user (from their profile) and environmental data, like the time of day and upcoming holidays.
- It can comprehend non-standard dialects and vernacular without having a meltdown (like a chatbot would!).
- The conversation is very human-like. It flows naturally and makes for an engaging experience.
Conversational AI is one of the leading components of the digital front door. It allows customers to access healthcare services at any time of the day and get exactly what they need. Suppose someone wakes up in the middle of the night with stomach pain. It's not severe enough that they need to go to the hospital immediately, but they decide they need to go to the doctor. They can access their healthcare provider's website and talk to the conversational AI, who will book an appointment based on their preferences and with the most appropriate doctor.
Conversational AI in healthcare also provides another vital function. It helps patients access services even when they are unsure of what they need. Sometimes navigating a healthcare provider's website can be very confusing, and users might not know where to begin. Without conversational AI, these users might contact customer services, which is time-consuming, unnecessary, and puts more pressure on the customer service operation.
Online Scheduling and Filling Out Documents
We live in a fast-paced world where we often need to be in many places at once. A busy calendar can be a nightmare for scheduling appointments, and usually, if a patient is given a time, they will end up having to cancel or reschedule. Instead, the patient can schedule their own healthcare appointments through the app or website.
We all need reminding sometimes, and text reminders are a great way to ensure patients never miss an appointment.
Custom Health Campaigns
Using individual patient data along with patient segment data, healthcare providers can create custom health campaigns to target specific users through customer touchpoints. For example, pregnancy campaigns that include valuable information about what supplements to take, what foods to avoid, and the recommended activity level promote smoother and healthier pregnancies. However, this information isn't relevant to everyone.
Easier Access With Virtual Appointments
The digital front door could usher in a new era of virtual healthcare where patients can speak to doctors online or have Zoom-based appointments. We already saw this happen during the pandemic, but we expect it's here to stay. Virtual healthcare makes healthcare more accessible. Patients no longer have to take time off work or arrange travel; they can simply take 10 minutes out of their day to chat with a healthcare professional on the go.
The digital front door proactively creates easy access points that add convenience but also streamline healthcare for both patients and providers. For example, patients can check-in online when they arrive at a healthcare facility instead of waiting in line for a receptionist to do it. They can make payments online, book and reschedule appointments, and fill out surveys.
Online healthcare portals can often be convoluted and confusing, and there's a vast gap between the number of patients who can access a healthcare portal and those that actually use them. In 2016 American Hospital Association Trend Watch reported that 92% of patients now have access to a healthcare portal. Great, right? Well, it turns out that less than a third of patients actively use a portal. Clearly, patients don't just want an online option; they want one that is simple, intuitive, and seamless.
Why You Need a Digital Front Door - The 5 'C's
- Champions: Excellent customer experiences turn patients into brand advocates. This is excellent news for healthcare providers because research shows that earned media (like reviews and testimonials) generate four times more brand lift than paid media.
- Cohesion: With a cohesive and well-managed digital front door, healthcare providers have fewer integrations to manage and fewer vendors to deal with. The key here is to choose unified solutions that offer more than one utility. For example, an AI-based adaptive communications platform can use conversational AI across every touchpoint. By contrast, with a chatbot, you have to pre-program each bot to each touchpoint (it's not adaptive or flexible to the situation).
- Control: Patients are seeking more control over their healthcare experiences and data. With a digital front door, patients can engage with services in a way that suits their personality, comfort level, and schedule.
- Consistency: With a unified digital experience, you can promote consistency in your digital experience and branding. Customers expect to receive the same experience no matter what touchpoint they interact with, and anything less can be jarring.
- Convenience: The Netflix generation (which, let's face it, is all of us!) expects hyper-convenient experiences. If scheduling a healthcare appointment is a frustrating experience, it's more noticeable today than ever before. Customers have other digital experiences to compare with, and their expectations have shifted. As we move further into the 2020s, patients will gravitate to the healthcare providers who offer exceptional digital experiences.
Changing dynamics in healthcare are accelerating digital transformation within the industry. The digital front door is the next major frontier. Healthcare providers need to adapt by implementing a seamless digital experience with conversational AI and other emerging technologies. It’s time to walk through the door!