How embracing technology can transform the healthcare experience

Peter Kung, MBA, MS, FACHE

This era of digital transformation has led to consumers expecting information, control and convenience at their fingertips in all aspects of their lives. “There are constants within consumers, regardless of demographics or industry, when selecting a service or product. Consumers desire access to choice, at the highest quality and the lowest cost, and that is growing ever-true in healthcare,” says Peter Kung, MBA, MS, FACHE, SVP of Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS).

The scope of solutions

Enter the “digital front door”—a way for hospitals and healthcare networks to engage or interact with their patients and consumers via a digital access point. From a patient or consumer’s perspective, it’s an easy and convenient way for them to learn about and manage their healthcare through the same digital tools they already use in their everyday life. It can empower patients to make better healthcare decisions and receive better care.

For many hospitals, the digital front door centers on their websites and patient portals, and may also include:

  • mobile apps
  • chatbots
  • physician ratings and reviews
  • social media
  • provider search
  • online booking
  • text communication
Kelly Nye

Websites at HCA Healthcare act as a key part of its digital front door for patients and consumers to research care and services and then to hopefully take the next step, such as making an appointment or signing up for email newsletters. HCA Healthcare also includes its social media channels among the digital offerings. “A lot of conversations happen on social media, and a number of decisions are driven through social media, so we have to keep those front doors healthy and open,” says Kelly Nye, VP Digital Strategy & Development at HCA Healthcare.

Making a patient’s experience with the hospital seamless and more convenient is a common goal. At LifePoint Health, they’re finding ways to make processes easier for patients, such as filling out registration forms online at home to reduce paper use and save time when in the facility or hospital.

The digital front door is about much more than just technology. Technology enables the service, but it is not the service. For example, online retailers all have certain baseline features, like shopping carts or online reviews, but the way they are combined to create unique experiences is based on the organization’s mission, says Kung. The same holds true in healthcare. “A digital front door should be easy and frictionless, and more importantly, it should also deliver the differentiating value proposition and experiences that engage and create a lasting relationship,” he says.

The return on investment

Al Smith

Patients and consumers now expect to be able to interact with their providers in this way. “It’s something we have to do to compete for new patients and to retain our current patients. It’s an expectation,” says Al Smith, SVP and CIO, LifePoint Health.

Digital solutions are a selling point for customers: Improving customer access and creating a better experience can strengthen patient loyalty. They also save time and money, allowing hospitals to serve more patients and deliver services at a much greater scale.

Ray Gensinger, M.D.

“It’s economics. We want to keep the patients we have, so we have to make sure that both their experience and the quality of their care is second to none,” explains Ray Gensinger, M.D., CIO of HSHS.

The digital front door can also help hospitals find new patients and grow their market share. “When people need something, they Google it or go to social media. So a good digital experience can create exposure for providers,” explains Nye, who notes the importance of your digital brand being consistent with your traditional marketing channels. “Our websites are often the first interaction someone will have with our brand. It’s critical for us to deliver an excellent experience on the web so we can maximize our brand awareness.”

Digital challenges

Chad Wasserman

With such a large network and thousands of digital assets, achieving digital consistency across access points can be a challenge, but it’s a challenge worth accepting. It requires diligence and attention to detail. “A large part of our mission as an organization now is a laser-like focus on creating as much consistency and convenience as we can in these important interactions,” says Chad Wasserman, VP of ITG Digital Patient Experience at HCA Healthcare.

LifePoint Health has experienced a similar challenge in creating a cohesive and consistent patient experience, resulting from using technology solutions and electronic medical records (EMRs) from multiple vendors. “Because of the way we’ve acquired hospitals over time, we don’t have the consistency of a single EMR platform,” says Smith. “We’re looking at a couple of different ways to help us have a common look and feel to patients, even if the technology isn’t the same behind the scenes.”

Hospitals need to consider how to balance the desire for efficiency with the importance of handling patient interactions with care. Nye advises making sure your digital copy and content are clear and accessible. “We’re talking to people when they’re at their most vulnerable. Making our content easy to digest and understandable helps them move through those decision-making points,” she says. It also means designing your digital spaces with accessibility in mind, considering the needs of non-native English speakers and people with disabilities.

Using text, email and push notifications can help personalize interactions and guide people through their hospital experience. With COVID-19, hospitals used this approach to keep people safe while waiting for appointments.

But not all patients want to be guided digitally or have access to digital resources, such as those in rural communities or from older demographics. That’s why building experiences with flexibility in mind—like including options for landlines and paper—is important.

The HSHS team is aware that before the pandemic, just 20% of patients were using their patient portal.

“If people aren’t using the portal, it’s because there’s no value to them in it. We don’t want to make it difficult for patients, or we’re going to end up losing them. We needed to make sure that we created other avenues of access,” notes Dr. Gensinger, adding that they’re also working on how to make their patient portal more useful and valuable.

The COVID catalyst

Although the pandemic didn’t introduce the concept of a digital front door, it has spurred development for many healthcare systems. “COVID was definitely a catalyst. We couldn’t do business the way we had traditionally, so in order to compete and survive, we had to think digitally and improve in this space,” says Smith.

A digital environment is an ideal way to communicate with patients while social distancing. Wasserman shares that HCA Healthcare aggressively rolled out digital services to quickly respond to patients’ needs while creating efficiency for staff. “Patients did not want to sit in waiting rooms for a long time, so we enabled patients to check in digitally and then receive text messages to essentially notify them of when we were ready to see them. That alleviated a tremendous amount of pressure on our operators and gave patients some reassurance and added convenience,” explains Wasserman.

COVID-19 has accelerated consumers’ comfort with digital experiences and reinforced the expectation that managing healthcare should be as convenient as ordering from Amazon. “We’ve got to do a better job of creating a frictionless and intuitive patient experience,” says Smith.

“I think most people would agree that healthcare has not done a great job of that in the past, but this is where we’re going to compete for patients in the future. We’ve got to get this right.”


Experts provide advice for how to get started with developing your digital front door:

Develop a common lexicon and strategy: Because there’s no standard definition of a digital front door, be clear upfront on what it means within your organization and what components are included. Al Smith, SVP and CIO, LifePoint Health, says they brought in a third-party company to help them define a common lexicon as well as a strategy.

Listen to your patients: To create an experience that helps your patients and responds to their challenges, you need to know what is most important to them and what frustrates them. “Spend time with your patients and consumers. Sometimes we think we know what’s best, but we’re so close to the situation, and we experience healthcare differently than the average person,” says Kelly Nye, VP Digital Strategy & Development at HCA Healthcare.

Know your value proposition: Peter Kung, MBA, MS, FACHE, SVP of Hospital Sisters Health System (HSHS), suggests being clear on the value proposition and the unique experience that you want to drive. By knowing these, your next steps will also become clearer.

Make it part of a greater experience: Your digital solutions should be welcoming, easy to use and part of an overall orchestrated experience for patients, notes Chad Wasserman, VP ITG Digital Patient Experience at HCA Healthcare. “As a patient moves across care settings, how do you create an orchestrated experience, not just when it comes to their care, but also in the messaging and the financial experience we provide them, so they can become solely focused on their care?”

Consider your care providers: Technology needs to be easy to use and helpful to your physicians and other healthcare staff, not just your patients, suggests Ray Gensinger, M.D., CIO of HSHS. “We have to make sure that the technology our caregivers are using makes them as effective as they can possibly be, so they see it as augmenting the provision of care, as opposed to being a barrier.”

Share Email
, , ,