How a digital front door can improve patients’ access to care

Online-first engagement ensures patients obtain the right care for their specific needs

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, patients often experienced a lack of access to care as doctors’ offices and hospitals shut down nonessential services. Many put off routine care like annual physicals and bloodwork. Others discovered the ease and convenience of digital health as a replacement for in-person visits.

As waves of COVID-19 come and go and new layers of safety protocols are enforced, some patients are understandably hesitant to visit their doctor’s office. As well, pent-up demand for services from patients’ forgoing care and the shortage of health care professionals has left patients with long wait times to access care through traditional channels. Combine this with the new reality that patients expect digital-first health solutions much like they have digital-first solutions everywhere else in their lives, and it adds up to a real watershed moment in health care.

According to a study by Carevoyance, it takes most patients an average of 24 days to schedule a first-time doctor’s appointment. Furthermore, in larger metropolitan areas, there are significant hurdles to seeing doctors in a timely manner, especially specialists. A Merritt Hawkins survey reports the average wait time to be seen by a specialist, such as a cardiologist, is just over 21 days. In rural areas, the time to see a doctor can be as much as 32 days.

Innovative platforms are becoming available that direct patients in the right direction, whether it’s a physical or digital experience, and provide access to readily-available care, which leads to improved outcomes and reduces administrative bottlenecks.

This online-first engagement—a digital front door—connects patients with the appropriate doctors and type of care relevant to their specific medical needs. Digital front door access also streamlines logistics by linking patients, providers, payers, hospital systems, and electronic health records into a unified ecosystem.

Moreover, digital front doors can incorporate asynchronous or synchronous visits, automated symptom checkers, provider search tools, and even chatbots to assist patients in determining the correct source of care based on their answers to a series of questions. Doctors can respond via these platforms, set a treatment plan for the patient, and write prescriptions or guide other care as needed. Using a digital front door also lets patients save time and money on trips to the emergency department or urgent care centers. It allows physicians to meet patients where they are and when they need care

A triaging tool

A KLAS Research study reported that 95% of providers surveyed considered a “digital front door” to mean “finding and arranging care.” A practice’s workflow suffers when a patient is directed, or self-directs, to the incorrect provider seeking treatment or diagnosis from the incorrect medical specialist.

Digital platforms help doctors prioritize which patients to see in-office and which to visit through a virtual appointment. This digital approach streamlines workflows while tracking patient outcomes. For example, when a specialist meets with a patient, they can avoid a cumbersome check-in process. Integrated systems offer a scheduled workflow, maximizing time and priorities, enabling the provider to optimize time with each visit. This, in turn, consolidates resources, lessening gridlock and regulatory burdens doctors often face.

A front door to virtual care

Access to provider teams, 24/7 appointment scheduling, and one-click convenience allows patients to connect with medical professionals whenever help is needed—whether from a smartphone, tablet, or kitchen table laptop.

Patients and doctors can even avoid a virtual consult altogether through diagnosis and treatment through online screening and prioritizing of needs based on the severity of each patient. On the opposite side of the spectrum, should someone find themselves in a crisis, a digital front door health platform can offer immediate connection to an emergency room, trauma doctor, or send medical first responders to the patient’s location.

Additional services that virtual health solutions can assist patients with include ordering labs and medical tests, arranging at-home testing or hands-on, in-person care and ultimately providing a diagnosis and treatment plan.

As far as results and customer satisfaction, a recent survey from the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition Telehealth Workgroup revealed that 67% of patients had lower costs with their telehealth visits than in-person visits. In addition, 78% of patients believed their telehealth visit addressed their health concerns, according to the survey.

An integrated user experience

A digital front door platform helps to remove barriers to medical care by streamlining a complex, blanketed, and layered process into a focused, patient-centered, and accommodating online experience. It offers an all-encompassing, start-to-finish experience that lets patients schedule an appointment, see a doctor, provide insurance information, process payments, and send prescriptions to a local pharmacy.

Providers and payers that offer access to a digital front door platform can improve the patient experience: saving time, money, and taking steps towards higher-quality health care.

Keith Algozzine is co-founder and CEO of UCM Digital Health. He represents UCM Digital Health on the American Telemedicine Association Accreditation Advisory Board and serves as an advisor to the Clinical Practice Guidelines Committees dealing with telemedicine considerations for urgent and emergency care.