2002 was the apex of legacy cable TV broadcasting. Long before Rokus and Fire TV consoles, we consumed our media in regularly scheduled, 30-minute spurts interrupted by tedious commercial breaks.
And if you didn’t have TiVo, you may also remember Paul Marcarelli, the charming but repetitively obnoxious “Can you hear me now?” protagonist whose Verizon television ads rocked the airwaves that same year.
In the ultimate plot twist, Paul’s seemingly unending quest for a “better connection” with his telecommunications provider resulted in a powerful cautionary tale of fading brand loyalty. He switched to Sprint (now T-Mobile) in 2016.
There’s a lesson to be learned from Paul’s brand swap saga – especially if you’re a healthcare patient access leader. When it comes to your digital front door, are your patients asking, “Can my you hear me now?” In other words, if you don’t have an effective digital front door strategy, your patients could be searching for a better connection with other providers.
Whether it’s the what (chatbots, voice assistants, mobile apps), the where (office, urgent care, ED), the when (third next available days, referral lag days) or the why (direct scheduling, price transparency, virtual care), you need a digital front door strategy and implementation plan that makes patients come to your organization for the who.
The What: Selecting communication mediums
Selecting the right mediums of communication for your patients is not an either-or proposition, as different demographics have different preferences. Even within a single demographic, some patients may prefer a self-scheduling mobile app for making an appointment, while others may prefer a life-like 24/7 voice assistant for asking questions about their bill. (But not too life-like, since studies show that the more realistic a customer service AI is the less likely a consumer will be to provide sensitive financial information over the phone.)
To facilitate your digital communication strategy, first start with a matrix that examines your major patient segments with different functions across the end-to end patient experience – from registration to care to collections. Within each intersecting segment and function, document the use cases and preferred communication mediums in order to gain a complete picture of all the ways your patients interact, or prefer to interact, with providers.
Patient advocacy committees or community outreach is invaluable to making this exercise successful.
The Where: Matching acuity to site of service
When patients do decide to request care from your organization, make sure your scheduling protocols (decision trees) and ordered procedures are seamlessly matched to the appropriate site of care. With the expansion of telehealth, you can successfully route patients to virtual visits for many basic services beyond the simple routine checkup, including:
- Urgent conditions like sinus infections and urinary tract infections
- Ongoing conditions, such as diabetes and hypertension
- Everyday care, including prescription refills and behavioral health
Additionally, more organizations are looking to transition low acuity procedures from complex inpatient settings to more efficient outpatient settings like standalone, same-day surgery centers. When evaluating whether certain specialists can deliver care in more efficient, lower cost sites of service, you’ll want to identify procedures that can be performed as same-day and have less than 12-hour “door-to-door” times for patients.
Also, within these more streamlined outpatient settings, optimizing the block schedule for your surgeons and driving room turnover efficiencies can be a big win both for provider efficiency and increased patient access.
The When: Aligning provider schedules and patient convenience
Anyone who is getting a sore throat Sunday night before the work week begins, or whose two-year-old is crying from an ear infection, knows that there’s no better time for care than right now. Being able to evaluate the source of your low acuity urgent care visits or ED admissions that can be more reasonably routed to urgent care settings and same-day virtual visits through sophisticated “block releases” can serve as the foundation for patients seeking relief. Additionally, looking up wait times by navigating to your website or asking “Alexa” for your next available appointment can help prevent patients from giving up on navigating patient access options before rushing out to your ED.
One of the biggest barriers to achieving patient satisfaction with your revamped digital front door strategy is scheduling – especially for urgent care needs. If a patient knocks on the door and a provider doesn’t answer due to an inflexible schedule, issues can and will arise. We recommend using provider schedule templates to help alleviate these issues. The templates enable providers to release restrictive but available schedule blocks closer to a date of service, ensuring last-minute care can be accommodated when patients need it.
The Why: Defining what self-service features to provide your patients
It’s been said before that scheduling an appointment online should be just as easy as ordering a pizza online. It’s also been said that getting the price of a service should be as easy as pulling up a menu. Therefore, when you’re working with your community and patient advocacy committees to determine guiding principles for a patient-centered digital front door transformation, online experience should be at the top of your list.
A prime example is an academic medical center that serves a large Medicaid population. These safety net providers are often enrolled in a Delivery System Reform Incentive Payment (DSRIP) program aimed at improving access to care. Safety net providers know their incentives and the needs of their community well, so they should implement technology that will help them address these needs appropriately. Their patients would most likely benefit from progressive web apps that open from any browser in addition to traditional forms of patient outreach. They would also want to leverage ride-sharing platforms to reduce broken appointment rates and interoperability for external care coordination.
The Who: Measuring and achieving patient loyalty
One undeniable truth about performance improvement in healthcare is that you can’t “system” your way around change. If your digital front door strategy does not adequately engage physicians and their schedules or standardize your referrals management and financial clearance workflows, then your implementation efforts may not result in improved key measures like third next-available appointments, in-network patient retention, or new patient volumes.
Take away all the promotions, the new cell phones, and the flashy branding; at the end of the day, Paul was just looking for better service from his telecommunication provider. If we apply that notion to your digital front door, the best way to attract and retain patients is to 1) address your scheduling and referrals lag operationally and 2) layer in your digital array of patient engagement for a first-class patient experience.
If you’re wondering where to go next on your digital front door journey, Nordic can guide you. We’ll help you build a stronger connection with your patients and avoid the dreaded, “Can you hear me now?” scenario.