Patients are consumers first, and medical groups should be prepared to meet consumers wherever – and whenever – they need care.
The “digital front door” has been a key pillar of patient access for years – becoming even more important at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Recently, we’ve seen the concept of a single digital front door evolve to encompass many “digital doors”— requiring expanded digital patient access strategies to engage and convert consumers effectively. Preferences for finding, selecting, and accessing care have also continued to evolve, with consumers increasingly prioritizing digital self-service and convenient experiences throughout the care journey.
So what do these evolving consumer preferences mean for medical groups and how can they focus their digital investments on the highest-impact areas? Here are three key strategies for medical practice leaders to employ as they build digital infrastructure to both attract new patients and improve the bottom line.
Insights into health care consumer research patterns are key to understanding how to meet consumers where they are. Recent research data reveals that, when searching online for new providers, the top resources consumers utilized were health care organization websites (62%), general Internet searches, e.g., via Google (60%), and health insurance websites (53%).
However, consumers do not limit their searches to these top three sources alone – instead, they seek information about providers and care options broadly across the Internet. In fact, nearly 80% of online researchers consult two or more websites in their search for care. For example, of those who conducted general internet searches (e.g., via Google), 45% also turned to third-party online resources such as health content websites (e.g., WebMD), third-party provider listing sites (e.g., Zocdoc), and non-health care review sites (e.g., Yelp) to find providers or services.
The widespread access to information online makes it crucial for medical groups to take stock of how they reach consumers, ensuring they have consistent information and easy calls to action no matter what door consumers choose to come through. An expanded view of the digital front door looks beyond a health care organization’s own digital properties – to key channels like health plan websites, search engines, medical information sites, and more.
Consumers have adopted sophisticated shopping behaviors, comparing and contrasting care options to choose the best fit for their needs based on a number of key factors. Consistently, factors related to cost, quality, and convenience surface as top priorities for people selecting a provider or care option.
Nearly all consumers (95%) take some kind of cost information into account when choosing care (e.g., insurance acceptance, estimated out-of-pocket costs) and two-thirds would be more likely to book care where they had visibility into out-of-pocket costs. While cost is important, so are factors related to quality, such as clinical expertise (87% said it was very or extremely important) and reputation (84%) when selecting care.
Convenience also remains a priority, with 84% saying appointment availability was very or extremely important and half citing online appointment scheduling when selecting a provider.
By understanding what criteria drive appointment conversion, medical groups can publish robust online provider profiles to serve up the right information, consistently and at the right time – delighting consumers and increasing new patient acquisition in tandem.
Self-service access is a priority for consumers throughout the care journey: 40% prefer online scheduling to other channels and 93% are interested in completing previsit tasks (e.g., check-in, payment, insurance verification) through digital channels. And, even though more consumers still prefer to book via phone, they experience varying outcomes when doing so – about one-fifth report long hold times when calling to book care, and of those, nearly one-third were unsuccessful in their attempt to book care.
With preference for digital self-service rising, forward-thinking medical groups achieve strong return on investment from deploying convenient tools like online scheduling and check-in – helping to meet consumer demand for convenience and alleviate burden on staff simultaneously.
Graham Gardner, MD, MBA, is cofounder and CEO of Kyruus. He completed his clinical training in internal medicine and cardiology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, where he also served as chief medical resident. He completed his bachelor’s and MD degrees at Brown University and also earned an MBA from Harvard Business School.