Unlocking greater access to care with a digital front door

The future of healthcare includes the use of digital front doors as a method utilised by providers to interact with patients. Providers leverage digital to give patients broader access to their services, personalised experiences and more convenient care. Using technology, digital front doors engage patients during their healthcare journey while bringing value to both patients and clinicians.

This shift towards digital has been accelerated not only by the Covid-19 pandemic but also by the lack of interoperability and the fragmented nature of services in the healthcare sector. 

We’ve identified five catalysts that have facilitated the transition towards digital;

  1. Data – healthcare organisations began receiving and deliberately seeking large quantities of healthcare data. They became more data-driven and open to the idea of predictive analytics assisting them in deciding where best to spend scarce resources.
  2. Resource – providers had to navigate complexities such as load balancing staff and delivering essential care, unique to the pandemic.
  3. Confidence & Trust – clinicians and patients developed confidence in digital solutions almost overnight.
  4. Payments – in the US, telemedicine received a national level acknowledgement through the new payer reimbursement models that finally offered video and telephone consultations parity with face-to-face consulting. 
  5. There are different driving factors that impact what a digital front door can offer and deliver. In the UK, digital front doors were driven by isolation, the need for higher convenience and the rationing of an oversubscribed product such as access to general practice. Meanwhile, India has suffered from access disparity; just over 70% of the population live in rural areas while 80% of all clinicians are located in the urban parts of the country.

What is a digital front door?

Today, the digital front door is no longer just a buzzword, it is now more than just a good-to-have; it has become a necessity. The term ‘digital front door’ is described as the use of digital technology as the first point of contact a patient has with their provider, eliminating the need for face-to-face interaction. Some of the elements include booking an appointment, request for medical advice, or simply accessing information. In a more advanced front door, patients may be able to self-triage, book and pay for appointments, attend a video consultation or view their medical records. 

According to Raj, MyPulse Co-founder and Chief Clinical Innovation Officer, “Digital front doors have been rapidly adopted as a concept across the healthcare sector with providers desperately trying to add some form of digital channel to access their existing care pathways.

Providers are responding directly to demand from patients who have learned to trust digital with their retail, travel and banking journeys and now expect the same level of convenience from healthcare.

While this focus is commendable, digital front doors must not simply become an add-on to traditional care pathways, but influence greater use of technology and data within the care pathways themselves to drive efficiencies. This redesign comes at a cost, but promises better patient outcomes and sustainability for resource constrained healthcare systems.

We must also be careful that all this ‘progress’ does not come at the cost of equity. Digital front doors must remain inclusive, an important consideration when designing pathways, where a large demographic of those accessing services may face digital literacy challenges, and barriers to adoption such as access to hardware and connectivity.”

Benefits to patients

Digital front doors allow patients to have a single point of entry while also offering a more convenient user experience through digital-first patient engagement. With reduced entry points and by utilising technology to improve the patient’s experiences, digital front doors provide increased convenience, better access to care and greater control over their own health.  

  1. Convenience – digital front doors make it easier for patients to interact with their providers. With the help of telehealth technology, patients can now attend appointments remotely, eliminating the need for an in-person visit. This also makes healthcare services available at more convenient times and from any location, facilitating a seamless interaction between patients and providers.  
  2. Accessibility – digital front doors increase access to care through availability to services through 24/7 appointment scheduling. Additionally, they make healthcare services more accessible to people struggling with mobility challenges or suffering from social anxieties which were amplified during the pandemic. They facilitate access to patients that live in rural areas that may find it difficult to attend in person. This ultimately widens access to care while also cutting down patient waiting times.
  3. Greater control – this is all about patient centricity. Digital front doors can prompt timely links to relevant information about how patients can self-care at home. The more sophisticated digital front doors can also give access to information about the outcomes of past consultations, allowing patients to manage their care more effectively. Greater control can also be achieved through more choice. For example allowing patients to be more selective about which specialist they want to see for their condition, leading to higher engagement and greater patient outcomes. 

Benefits to providers 

Digital front doors when built properly provide capability-tailored solutions to your workload. They help automate tasks which enable clinicians and admin staff to better utilise their time leading to increased productivity, improved efficiency and reduced clinician burnout. 

  1. Efficiency – digital front doors lead to fewer patient phone calls, meaning less administrative work and time spent on manual activities. This is achieved through allowing patients to self-serve relevant information about your practice e.g. receive information about your location, open hours and services as well as seeing real-time appointment availability. Since patients can book appointments for your services around-the-clock, peak times are also lowered. 
  2. Productivity – digital front doors enhance productivity with the help of triage. Triage allows your clinicians to prioritise patients that need care most, enabling them to collect relevant information about the patients’ health condition prior to appointments. This results in more productive visits, greater patient outcomes and higher quality of care.
  3. Growth – the more advanced digital front door solutions can provide personalised communications and care options to the individual patient. They help your practice expand patient preferences in line with other ways in which patients access services in industries such as retail and banking. Ultimately, the greater care options lead to patient stickiness. Digital front doors grow your virtual footprint by opening the door to patients in all geographic areas. This makes your business scalable, not just in terms of reach, but also in terms of recruitment of clinical staff. 

It’s clear that forward-thinking organisations invest in digital innovation to keep up with emerging trends and changing patient needs. In 2021, £1.5 billion was spent on technology funding for digital front doors, an increase of 67% from the previous year.