Beyond the Digital Front Door: The Digital House

Health Systems Should Operate as a Digital House… Not Just a Digital Front Door

Keith Belton

Vice President, Strategy and Partnerships, Phynd Technologies, Inc.

There has been much written and spoken about the need for health systems’ building a ‘digital front door’ to improve consumerism and patient engagement. Digital marketing leaders, spurred to action, have set out to build one. Results have been mixed, at best. 

However well intentioned, the term ‘digital front door’ is a misnomer. It implies that improving the patient journey requires but a simple website redesign. Just replace the door, paint the porch …and voila! A new patient experience!

Why is it a misnomer? The heart of a better consumer experience should be easy access to a health systems’ people, places, and services, including telehealth. An effective strategy requires, instead, a “digital house,” supported by a flexible data platform which offers advanced provider search and scheduling for patients and access teams. Let’s see why.

One Health System’s Journey to a Better Digital House

A Top 25 health system learned first-hand the fundamental difference between a website-focused (“digital front door”) and a provider data-focused (“digital house”) strategy. This health system began work with a vendor that advertised website tools with limited provider data management. After a year, leadership realized the project had no chance of success and abandoned this approach (and vendor), identifying core shortfalls:

  • Narrow provider profiles – no health plan, location, or network capability.
  • No support for real-time scheduling in the electronic health record (EHR).
  • No ability for staff to make their own profiles adds or changes.
  • Limited taxonomy incorrectly mapped to subspecialties and individual providers.

Leadership subsequently selected a new partner offering a robust provider data platform. The platform’s provider and location profile management capability, taxonomy, health plan and network management, and ‘schedule-aware’ capability supported leadership’s vision. By expanding project scope from a simple digital front door to a full digital house, they now restarted their effort, more confident of success. 

The project began in Q4 2018 and went live 5 months later. Now, provider search displays appropriate provider profiles and open slots for real-time appointment booking in the EHR. Their website is now considered best-in-class, principally because of the flexibility, depth, and continuous updating of the provider data platform.

The results post launch? Online scheduling is now approaching 10 % of all appointment volume…and growing. Access call volumes have dropped 150,000 per quarter, generating $6 million annually in recurring savings. The health system website’s domain authority score has soared from under 50 to well over 60…and continues to climb.

The Floor Plan for a Digital House

How might a health system design such a digital house? The website would be the front door, patient portals would be a convenient side entrance, the patient access system would be a front porch, the reg/sched system the front hall. The EHR system, underpinning all clinical care, is the basement. The revenue cycle system would be the living room. Upstairs, bedrooms contain reputation management and ratings software and SEO tools – critical items for influencing patients’ provider search and selection decisions. Credentialing – regularly updating the platform – would be a home office. Managed care would be a study off the living room.

Where should provider data reside in the digital house? 

Because it supports all rooms with accurate provider data – consumer and access provider search, EHR, revenue cycle, and managed care operations – provider data management is an essential part of the house framework. When provider data isn’t accurate, mission-critical processes break down. Patients with a sore shoulder will unwittingly book a knee specialist. Parents will book their toddler with an internist, not a pediatrician. Access teams will send a patient see Dr. Smith, not realizing Dr. Smith no longer takes the patient’s health plan – discovered only after the patient has arrived for the appointment. Claims submission is delayed or worse, denied, because provider data needed for payor approval is inaccurate or missing.

Provider data, therefore, is the studs, walls, insulation, heating, electricity, and plumbing. Unless a provider data platform is properly framed into the digital house, data integrity will be poor. 

The key takeaway? The strength of the digital house – consumer and access experience – is only as good as the quality of provider data. All else is secondary.

Building the Digital House

Now that we’ve identified the house blueprint, how does a health system build a digital house? We suggest a six-step process:

  1. Select the right platform to manage provider data. A provider-centric platform should have well-defined provider and location profiles, cross-indexed with health plans, networks and a robust clinical taxonomy. The platform should offer a Google-like search embeddable in your consumer-facing website, EHRs, and patient access workflow.
  1. Centralize Provider Data in One Platform. Consolidate data from 10+ sources – EHR extracts, spreadsheets, credentialed files. Your vendor should have the expertise to perform deduping, normalization, data cleansing and loading. This hub must be integrated with credentialing and EHRs to receive and share data with systems that depend on it.
  1. Deploy Modern Curation Methods. The platform must offer modern data profile management, so hundreds of users can make changes. Data governance tools determine which users have read/write access to specific data fields. Profile changes can be sent, if desired, to a worklist for review before acceptance into the data platform.
  1. Power Your Website and Access Teams with Real-Time Search of Your Provider Data Platform. The search should be easy and powerful, so consumers can type in complaint, health plan, location, and/or telehealth preference. Marketers should be able to weigh search factors — health plan participation, tiering, proximity, scheduling availability – to best support patient engagement strategies.
  1. Monetize Your Inventory by Adding On-line Scheduling. Search results should display next-available appointments and offer direct scheduling in the EHR. Provider search and scheduling will drive up provider utilization, website visit and call center conversion rates, and reduce access team workload. The ROI on increased utilization and reduced leakage alone will pay for the platform many times over.
  1. Optimize SEO Performance. The better your local SEO ranking, the more likely you’ll capture organic search traffic. Share your location and provider data regularly with Binary Fountain, Google, Yext and others. Drive up SEO performance and domain authority, the latter positively correlating with utilization, market share and revenue.

With this digital house blueprint, and following these 6 steps, all care delivery assets in the house, including providers, are now readily searchable. Easy to use, advanced provider search and provider directories are now ubiquitously available in the house, optimizing all systems…fed with continuously-curated provider data. Your organization will be well on its way to establishing a strong digital presence and improving patient engagement.

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