How to optimize your digital front door in healthcare

By UserTesting | August 28, 2023
A closeup of a man on his tablet.

As patients increasingly expect on-demand access and convenience, a robust digital presence has become crucial to an excellent digital patient experience. Optimizing your healthcare digital front door to simplify access and promote engagement is a strategic advantage. While it provides convenient access for existing patients, it also helps attract new patients and convert them into loyal healthcare consumers.

According to a PYMNTS and Rectangle Health survey, 76% of patients want to manage healthcare digitally, and 35% of younger healthcare consumers are willing to switch to providers with better digital healthcare options. Your digital front door creates a first impression and sets the tone for the patient journey. By optimizing it, you can drive patient acquisition and engagement, improve satisfaction, and strengthen your organization's reputation.

What is a digital front door in healthcare?

The digital front door refers to all the digital touchpoints where patients interact with your healthcare organization. However, patients don't recognize these as touchpoints. They're simply trying to access your services, communicate with your staff, and navigate their healthcare journey. Your digital front door is like a waiting room because it's your first interaction with patients.

It involves a combination of various digital tools, platforms, and technologies. Together, they create digital touchpoints that try to streamline patient access, improve the patient experience, and enhance healthcare services:

  • Patient portals: Secure online platforms where patients can access their medical records and test results or communicate with healthcare providers.
  • Online appointment scheduling systems: Online systems allow patients to schedule appointments with healthcare professionals at their convenience.
  • Telehealth visits: Virtual consultations enable patients to interact with healthcare providers remotely, reducing the need for in-person visits.
  • Online and mobile communication channels: This includes email and live chat, where patients can reach out with questions or concerns.

Why prioritizing your digital front door is essential

Patients expect healthcare organizations to offer convenient digital access to care and information in today's digital era. If your digital offerings fall short, you risk losing patients to competitors with superior experiences. Here are a few key reasons why optimizing your digital front door is essential:

  • Increased patient acquisition and retention: Providing an effortless digital experience will attract new patients while retaining existing ones.
  • Improved access to care: With online scheduling, telehealth, and other digital options, patients can access several healthcare services when and how they want.
  • Higher patient satisfaction: Smooth digital interactions improve patient satisfaction levels and loyalty.
  • Enhanced reputation: An excellent digital front door boosts your organization's reputation for being innovative and patient-focused.
  • Operational efficiency: Digital front door optimization allows streamlined workflows, freeing up staff resources.
  • Competitive differentiation: With a stellar digital experience, you can stand out from competing health systems.

Healthcare organizations, on average, spend around $286 to acquire a new patient, and each patient has an average lifetime value of $12,000 to $15,000. When existing patients aren't satisfied, you lose this substantial lifetime value and face increased expenses to acquire new patients. Optimizing your digital offerings to improve patient satisfaction helps retain patients and avoid high churn rates. 

How to optimize the digital front door in healthcare

Optimizing your healthcare digital front door requires an omnichannel strategy to meet patient needs. You must view your website, mobile apps, patient portal, and other digital touchpoints as an integrated ecosystem, not separate entities. A disjointed digital experience frustrates patients who want seamless access to healthcare across channels. 

Here are nine ways to optimize your digital front door.

1. Implement user-friendly websites and mobile apps

Your website and mobile apps represent critical digital entry points for patients engaging with your health system. Patients accessing your site or app seek specific healthcare services or want to interact with their providers. An unintuitive, confusing website or app immediately turns patients away.

While some healthcare providers design their own digital experiences, many rely on vendors or out-of-the-box software for patient portals and EHRs. 

When searching for patient-facing digital healthcare solutions, prioritize options that allow customization and optimization for user experience. Look for adaptable platforms that enable you to tailor the interface, functionality, and flows to patient needs.

To provide accessible, effortless experiences, implement websites and apps with the end user in mind. Here are some best practices to follow:

  • Test your mobile healthcare experience to select tools that make sense to your patient base. Look for intuitive navigation and natural user flows for your audience. Ensure critical information and actions are accessible to your patients. 
  • Choose options with prominent search functionality so patients can quickly find information.
  • Look for responsive platforms optimized for all devices like desktops, smartphones, and tablets.
  • Implement sites and apps optimized for speed and performance. Avoid feature-heavy tools that may slow things down.
  • Select accessible solutions that support patients with disabilities. Ensure options like text resizing and screen readers are available.

Prioritizing user experience design is the best way to create a digital front door that patients love to use. Satisfied users are more likely to return and recommend your health system.

2. Implement a robust online appointment scheduling system

In a digitally-driven world, patients expect the convenience of booking appointments online at their preferred time. So, enhancing your digital front door with an effective online scheduling system is crucial. Consider these pivotal features to streamline the patient booking experience:

  • Enable self-service scheduling 24/7 from any device. This feature allows patients to book visits conveniently without calling and waiting on hold.
  • Ensure your scheduling system integrates smoothly with your electronic health record (EHR) and provider calendars. It gives patients accurate real-time visibility into appointment slots, reducing the chances of double bookings or overlaps.
  • Cater to diverse patient needs by offering options to book a range of appointments, such as telehealth consultations, in-person visits, or specific procedures.
  • Empower patients by letting them choose the date, time, location, and provider based on real-time availability.
  • Enhance the user experience by allowing easy online rescheduling or appointment cancellation. Patients should have the autonomy to adjust their bookings without external assistance.

These features bolster patient satisfaction and access and optimize operations. With a transparent and up-to-date booking system, you alleviate the strain on call centers while giving patients the power to manage their healthcare journey. 

3. Integrate telehealth services

Telehealth services are revolutionary, bridging distances and ensuring continued care even under challenging circumstances like the recent pandemic. Patients now expect and demand telehealth services as part of digital healthcare access. Integrating easy-to-use telehealth options is vital for meeting patient needs.

Below are some best practices for executing successful telehealth services:

  • Cater to varying patient needs by offering various telehealth visit options, such as video calls, phone consultations, and chat-based interactions. 
  • Ensure a smooth patient experience by guiding them through any necessary technical setups, like downloading specific applications for video consultations.
  • Refine back-end processes by optimizing telehealth workflows for providers. Strategies include automating documentation and billing to ensure efficiency during virtual care.
  • Equip healthcare providers with training sessions on best practices for telehealth. Proper training will ensure quality care and effective patient engagement, even when a screen separates providers and patients.

Integrating a robust telehealth system enables patients to receive top-tier care from the comfort of their homes or workplaces, eliminating common barriers like mobility and distance. 

Telehealth services also add flexibility to your health system's operations, benefiting providers and patients. Get patient feedback to know your audience better and determine the best telehealth approach with your mission and patient preferences.

4. Choose an efficient and secure patient portal

A patient portal is a digital hub where patients can access their health information, connect with providers, and manage healthcare needs. When implementing a patient portal, look for the following features:

  • Instant access to health records like test results, doctor's visit notes, and medical history
  • Two-way messaging between patients and care teams
  • Appointment self-scheduling and medication refill requests directly through the portal
  • Native apps for iOS and Android, as many patients prefer to use smartphones
  • Accessibility features like text resizing, voice commands, and high contrast modes to support seniors and disabled patients
  • Robust data security, including encryption and role-based access, to protect sensitive patient information
  • Stringent adherence to privacy standards, like U.S. HIPAA regulations

Even with a third-party solution, testing and gathering feedback is crucial to build empathy and advocate for optimizing the patient journey within existing systems. This ensures the portal provides the seamless omnichannel experience patients expect. 

Frequent portal use correlates to better health outcomes and more preventative care. Patients experience a sense of empowerment when they have valuable digital self-service options for managing their healthcare.

5. Provide multiple communication channels

Every patient is different, and so are their preferred communication methods. Whether email, phone, or live chat, ensure you're available on channels your patients prefer. Offer an omnichannel experience by providing:

  • Live chat or messaging functionality on your website and patient portal for convenient conversational interactions. Get some tips for how to keep live chat human-centered.
  • An automated chatbot or virtual assistant to handle routine patient inquiries, like portal password resets or appointment changes. 
  • Prominent phone contact options, as many patients still want to speak to a real person directly.

With multiple digital access points, patients can connect with the staff using their preferred method. This flexibility provides a superior experience and meets diverse needs. Evaluate which communication channels your patients use most and prioritize the technology and workflows for those methods.

6. Personalize the patient experience

Generic, one-size-fits-all digital experiences frustrate today's patients. They expect healthcare organizations to know them and tailor interactions accordingly, just like any other digital experience. You can personalize your digital front door in many impactful ways:

  • Integrate patient health data from your EHR to deliver tailored content. For example, share relevant health education materials for their conditions.
  • Leverage patient profiles that capture preferences to customize communication methods and frequency.
  • Display care gap alerts specific to the patient's health needs and history.
  • Provide patient usage data and display personalized content recommendations. For example, suggest a new portal feature based on past behavior.

Personalization is critical to making patients feel valued. When you offer tailored digital interactions, you actively foster loyalty and elevate satisfaction. Continuously exploring novel approaches for integrating personalization across all digital touchpoints is essential. This proactive effort will deliver ongoing advantages for strengthening patient relationships and enhancing their overall experience.

7. Enable easy online bill payment and insurance management

Handling healthcare bills and insurance details is a significant pain point for many patients. You can ease these administrative burdens with digital self-service options:

  • Offer an online account pay feature through your patient portal to allow quick payment by bank transfer, credit card, or other options.
  • Provide digital access to itemized bill summaries and statements.
  • Allow patients to check their health insurance benefits, coverage amounts, policy details, and more through the patient portal.
  • Enable patients to update insurance information digitally when policies change instead of filling out forms.
  • Establish payment plan options patients can manage online.
  • Implement eligibility-checking workflows to estimate patient out-of-pocket costs for nonemergency care. 

Handling bills and insurance is about more than just payments. Well-designed digital experiences demonstrate you understand patients' circumstances and make their lives easier.

8. Implement mobile alerts and notification system

Digital notifications are a convenient way to remind patients about essential health needs and keep them engaged with your organization outside of in-person visits. Here's how you can utilize notifications:

  • Send out appointment reminders and follow-ups via text message or email. Such proactive communication can significantly reduce missed appointments and costly no-shows.
  • Use patient history data to send out preventative and chronic care alerts. 
  • Send medication reminders and refill confirmations to help patients adhere to treatment plans.

Mobile alerts allow for timely digital outreach when patients are receptive. Personalized notifications between visits demonstrate that your organization cares while encouraging patient accountability. However, you should allow patients to control and customize the frequency of alerts.

9. Offer online health education resources

Well-designed health education resources help patients understand conditions, treatments, and prevention better. Offer rich, self-service digital education in these ways:

  • Build an expansive online resource hub with articles, videos, and animations. Dive deep into health topics, diseases, diagnostic tests, procedures, and treatments. This hub should be the go-to platform for patients seeking in-depth knowledge.
  • Provide preventative health information to help patients reduce risk with diet, exercise, screening adherence, mental health, etc. 
  • Feature patient stories and their experiences with managing health conditions. Such reports help build connections.
  • Utilize the appeal of visual content through infographics, downloadable fact sheets, and posters. These resources can simplify complex information, making it easier for patients to grasp. 
  • Ensure that your resources cater to a diverse audience. Include materials accessible to seniors, patients with disabilities, and those who speak various languages.

Continuously create and curate digital education resources designed for your patient's needs. Well-informed patients experience better outcomes and feel empowered as healthcare consumers.

Enhance your digital front door with patient feedback

Understanding and enhancing your digital front-door strategy goes beyond just technological advancements. The accurate measure of success lies in how seamlessly it addresses patient needs. Direct feedback from your users is the best way to determine this.

Collecting user feedback is a critical factor that grants you insights into areas that might not be evident through analytics alone. You must continually seek feedback and expectations from patients to drive improvements. Ask questions such as:

  • Was the patient portal too complicated? 
  • Were the appointment reminders not timely enough?

User testing allows you to dive deep into these experiences. Observing actual patients as they navigate your health systems digitally gives you a firsthand view of their interactions, hesitations, and pain points. This feedback helps prioritize improvements. Let direct patient data shape the future of your digital front door.

Frequently asked questions

How can telehealth visits improve the patient experience?

Telehealth visits provide a convenient way for patients to interact with healthcare providers remotely. By eliminating the need to travel to appointments physically, telehealth streamlines the healthcare journey, enhances overall satisfaction, and improves the healthcare experience.

What are the benefits of implementing AI-powered chatbots in healthcare?

AI-powered chatbots offer real-time assistance to patients by addressing common inquiries, guiding them through the digital front door, and providing engagement opportunities. These chatbots enhance patient interaction and engagement, improving the overall patient experience.

What is the role of a patient portal in the digital front door strategy?

A patient portal is a secure online platform that allows patients to access their medical records and test results and communicate with healthcare providers. It's pivotal in the digital front door strategy by enhancing patient access to healthcare services and promoting patient engagement.

How can online bill payment systems contribute to a seamless healthcare journey?

Online bill payment systems empower patients to settle their medical bills through digital platforms conveniently. It streamlines the healthcare journey, reduces administrative burdens, and improves patient satisfaction and experience.

What is personalization in the digital front door strategy?

Personalization involves tailoring healthcare services and information to individual patient preferences and needs. This approach supports features like appointment reminders, enhances patient engagement, and ultimately increases the effectiveness of primary care

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