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Digital front doors present an opportunity to engage patients and optimize how they access care
Around the world, thousands of people struggle to gain access to quality healthcare. While significant structural change is needed to address these problems in the long term, there are solutions that can begin to address this problem immediately. Telehealth, for example, has significantly increased patient access to healthcare by enabling patients to meet with a doctor from their homes.
But there is a step that goes beyond telehealth that can lead to even greater change in accessibility: digital front doors. A digital front door is an entry point where patients have a chance to seek help first through validated information and then from healthcare providers. It’s a strategy designed to engage patients at specific touchpoints of their journey.
Digital front doors present an opportunity to engage patients and optimize how they access healthcare services. In this article, I will outline three ways symptom checkers can contribute to healthcare accessibility for patients around the world.
Enhancing patient experience
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many shifts in the healthcare industry. One of those shifts was in how patients interact with their own healthcare experience. Patients increasingly want more and more agency and choice in their healthcare journey. It is imperative that providers create options for patients and allow them to choose how they want to receive healthcare.
One way they can do that is through digital front doors, which facilitate access to healthcare at any time or place, 24/7 (as long as the patient has an internet connection). They can be used on a variety of technologies like smartphones, tablets, and laptops. Digital front doors enhance the patient experience in a range of ways, some of which I will touch on below.
Firstly, the triage capabilities within digital front doors provide options for audio, video, or text teleconsultation. This broadens a patient’s choice in the way they can receive care. Further, digital front doors also allow patients to select their preferred physicians and communicate with them through flexible communication channels.
Digital front doors have also been shown to reduce burnout caused by much administrative work. Burnout has, in some cases, been shown to reduce the quality of patient care. Implementing digital front doors could therefore lead to improved quality in patient care.
Reducing time spent in doctors’ offices
Digital front doors contribute to time savings for patients. Someone in an urban setting may live right down the street from their doctor, but those who live in rural settings may have to drive more than an hour to get there. While it is crucial that we expand healthcare offerings in rural areas, that process can take quite a bit of time. There needs to be an immediate solution in the meantime.
Digital front doors are a great option to help address this urgent need by providing virtual opportunities for care. Using symptom analysis and triage capabilities, digital front doors can assess a patient's true needs and recommend the appropriate solution – whether that is in person or through virtual care. If the patient does need an in-person appointment, the technology can suggest the type of doctor to see, and to the closest one. Digital front doors ensure that patients’ time is well spent with the proper provider.
Even when a patient does choose to go into the office, digital front doors have options that can reduce the time the patient spends in the office. First, patients can conduct a symptom check or fill out their medical history prior to the appointment. They can even do this while sitting in the waiting room. This saves the providers from having to go through all of these questions with them and, as such, allows the patient and medical practitioner to have meaningful conversations and achieve outcomes from the allocated visit time.
Healthcare managers can also use symptom checker data to actively manage incoming patients by proposing shorter waiting times for those with higher triage levels. They can even recommend telemedicine services for those with mild symptoms. Digital front doors can also offer patients shorter times-to-visit and, in some cases, instant consultations. This technology increases accessibility by getting patients to the proper care in the quickest way possible.
Finally, digital front doors can also significantly reduce costs for patients – which ultimately increases accessibility. In the U.S., those without health insurance can spend anywhere from $100 to $250 just for a visit to a general practitioner or a specialist. For more complicated visits, like seeing an ENT for ear infection, it could cost them anywhere from $100 to $350. Not to mention, there can be added costs depending on where a person lives, including travel or taking time off of work. The high costs of seeking medical care in the U.S. can cause many people to delay care, or not seek it at all. This leads to worse health outcomes, and contributes to health disparities all across the country.
Health technology is a proven cost-effective solution to address this problem. For example, digital front doors can direct patients to teleconsultation visits instead of in-person visits (when appropriate), which can reduce several explicit and implicit costs. As mentioned earlier, digital front doors can also direct patients to the appropriate care, ensuring that they don’t spend money on the wrong appointment. In fact, one study found that $4.1 billion could be saved with effective patient prescreening. With savings this large on the line, it is crucial that symptom checkers and digital front doors be utilized more widely.
Having symptom-checking, self-service tools for patients as their first touchpoint to a digital healthcare service improves access and reduces inequities in healthcare. These tools can guide patient navigation and narrow down the services from a vast array of options.
This improved navigation translates to higher patient satisfaction and streamlines healthcare as a whole. Organizations using symptom checkers can reduce the number of low-acuity patients in EDs, increase adoption rates of telemedicine, save patients’ time, and drive cost optimizations.
Digital front doors are an excellent solution to many healthcare accessibility issues facing the world today – and should be implemented by health systems around the world.
(Image source: futurecdn.net)
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