Few would argue that patient access to healthcare providers is as simple as purchasing goods online. Despite the apples-to-oranges comparison, patients have become healthcare consumers and expect a digital experience on par with e-commerce shopping.
As a result, the rush to capture patients and keep them in-network by employing simple but sophisticated electronic intimacy is underway—and few are doing it well.
In recent years, health system marketing leaders have begun building their system’s digital front doors to welcome and retain patients. However, such efforts should be part of a larger digital transformation within a connected enterprise.
When approached from just a marketing lens, digital front door initiatives rarely meet the needs of patients, let alone those involved in the patient’s care (i.e., clinicians, patient access teams, care coordinators, and increasingly, your referring providers). Health systems require a digital house, not just a digital front door.
The framework: One health system's digital house story
A leading health system learned firsthand the fundamental difference between a website-focused strategy (digital front door) and a provider data platform-focused plan of action (digital house). This health system had begun work with a vendor that advertised a patient access and website tools-focused approach.
After a year, however, the health system’s leaders realized the project had no chance of success and abandoned the approach (and the vendor). The healthcare organization identified numerous core shortfalls in its initial approach:
- Provider profiles didn’t fully represent the health system’s products, services, and inventory
- Provider search was missing places and services, such as telemedicine
- The provider profiles were limited in scope and lacked data on health plan, location, and clinical network
- There was no ACO roster management capability
- Schedule inventory was days old, and real-time scheduling in the EHR was unavailable
- The vendor’s data management tools were limited:
- There was no client data curation
- Taxonomy was not organized by subspecialty and no customization to taxonomy was available
- There were no tools to map clinical and patient-friendly terms to providers
- The vendor, not the health system, hosted the solution and had to make all changes or additions to profiles
Senior leaders subsequently switched strategies, realizing that an approach based on the provider data platform was key to the project’s success. They selected a new partner with expertise in creating a data hub supported by client curation methods. The platform’s provider supported leadership’s vision with location profile capability, taxonomy, health plan and ACO/CIN participation management, and schedule-aware capabilities.
By expanding their objective from building a new digital front door to constructing a digital house, the health system set off confidently in the right direction, built on the right data foundation.
The project was planned, launched, and completed within five months. Now, providers are displayed via searches and offer real-time appointments booked in the EHR. The health system’s website is now considered best-in-class, in part because of the flexibility and depth of the underlying provider data platform. The results post launch include the following:
- Online scheduling now represents 6% of all appointments made, and that number is growing
- Over 150,000 phone calls are diverted quarterly via self-scheduling, generating $6 million annually in recurring savings
- The health system’s website’s domain authority score has soared from under 50 to well over 60, and the number continues to climb
Excerpted with permission from “The Digital Transformation of a Metropolitan New York Health System,” Frontiers of Health Services Management, Volume 38 Number 3.
The Digital Transformation of a Metropolitan New York Health System
By Adrin Mammen, MS, MBA, FACHE; Assoc. VP, Patient Access Transformation Officer, Montefiore Medical Center
A digital front door allows patients to choose the right provider based on medical condition, location, health insurance, availability of appointments, and personal preferences.
Montefiore Health System's digital patient experience initiatives are tied to a mobile-first strategy: Every process that involves patients should include digital options that are accessible through a mobile device. In other words, our mobile app is the apex built upon a foundation of essential provider data.
We knew that going to market with multiple digital channels for patients was not going to work without a central source of provider data truth. Provider data management is the cornerstone of patient access. With that foundational piece firmly in place, we could then add online features such as chatbots and online scheduling. In September 2020, when our outpatient clinics reopened following the initial COVID-19 closures, we instituted pre-appointment check-ins to reduce contact between patients and front-desk staff.
A user-friendly provider directory is an essential part of our patient acquisition strategy. We selected symplr as our cloud-based data management platform to build and maintain robust individual provider profiles. Such information can help patients connect with the right doctors. At the same time, it adds to operational efficiencies by enabling patient self-service. The directory takes in data from various sources, including the EHR and credentialing systems.
Patients can search in the provider directory using either basic or clinical terminology and be matched with a provider that is best suited for their needs. Other search criteria such as specialty and location enhance the patient experience.
Having a solid data management platform also eases the management of multiple provider profiles. Staff across the health system maintain the provider data and update it when it changes. These updates are available for searches in real time.
Physicians access the same directory to find an in-network specialist for referral purposes. We are working to facilitate communication—among primary care providers, specialists, and patients—throughout the referral process by developing various technology-driven workflows.
For example, the directory system proactively sends out a text message when a referral order is placed, which allows a patient to self-schedule with a specialist or click a link to reach the call center. In the process, we are leveraging direct messaging technology that would allow for enhanced communication across the EHR system between the referring physician’s EHR and ours.
After searching for a provider, patients can schedule their appointment online. Scheduling is real time, based on the provider’s current availability. When a patient schedules an appointment, that time slot is immediately removed from the list of available appointments from the EHR system.
An accurate provider directory and online scheduling are essential for acquiring new patients, improving the patient experience, maximizing utilization, and keeping patients in our network.
When the appointment is scheduled, the patient receives digital reminders and can confirm their appointment via text or e-mail in their preferred language. They can check in for their appointment—completing visit paperwork and paying any copayments—all online.
The results of building a digital house
Provider data is the studs, walls, insulation, heating, water, electricity, plumbing. Without a sturdy framework, the house can’t stand. The provider data platform should be the house’s central hub, supporting location directory and location data management. The location data can be readily reported out and fed regularly into Google (or Binary Fountain or Yext) to improve the local SEO score.
This realization—that detailed management of provider assets is foundational to the consumer experience—is exactly the a-ha moment that the health system leaders described above experienced.
Fortunately, they were able to buttress the house with a provider data platform that turned their provider search into an asset, which in turn delighted consumers, drove up on-line appointments, and reduced call volumes.
Unless a provider data platform is included as the foundational element of the digital house, mismatches will occur when consumers’ search for the right provider based on medical condition, health plan, proximity, scheduling availability, and ratings. Patients with a sore shoulder will unwittingly book a knee specialist. Parents will book their five-year-old with an internist, not a pediatrician. Consumers will find out that Dr. Smith no longer takes their health plan or is out of network—only after they’ve arrived for an appointment.
The key takeaway? The quality of the consumer experience is only as good as the quality of provider data. All else is secondary.
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