Posted: 30 Jun. 2020 12 min. read

As deferred procedures return, some hospitals are opening a ‘digital front door’

Summer Knight, MD, MBA, managing director and Emily Borlik, managing director, Deloitte Consulting LLP

As states relax restrictions that kept many people at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals and acute care facilities are scheduling postponed surgeries, diagnostic procedures, and routine services. In a new phenomenon, some patients might re-enter the health system through a digital front door.

The idea of a digital front door has been coming up more frequently as hospitals and health systems place greater emphasis on establishing and maintaining a digital connection with patients and consumers. But there is a level of murkiness when it comes to defining exactly what this term means. A digital front door doesn’t hinge on any single technology nor one type of interaction with the patient. Rather, it combines a broad range of digital features that keep patients and their care teams connected throughout the care journey. A digital front door, for example, might be used to virtually triage a patient from their home, digitally schedule services, and admit them (if needed). It might also be used for digital-health assessments, care-management adherence, medication management, finding in-network doctors, or for estimating the patient’s out-of-pocket costs. It could also help reduce the risk of infection by limiting face-to-face interactions.

The digital-front-door concept is already being used in other consumer-facing industries to create a customized experience. A hotel guest, for example, might bypass the reception desk and check in via smartphone app. That app might also be used to order room service, set a wake-up call, or arrange transportation to the airport. Increased focus on the consumer experience in travel and other sectors is helping drive hospitals and health systems to pay closer attention to the consumer experience.

As consumers have grown accustomed to digital ecosystems, they are changing the way they use services and are more likely to migrate to companies and brands they trust. Some younger consumers, for example, are choosing health care providers based primarily on their digital offerings, according to a recent NRC Health study.1 While the health sector has been slow to join the technology revolution, adoption is gaining momentum. Lessons learned from other industries are helping to guide hospital and health system leaders as they define digital experiences for their patients.

Understanding which experiences matter the most to patients can help hospital and health system leaders make more informed technology decisions that could enhance and maintain the on-going relationship with their patients. In the post-pandemic landscape, providers that meet or exceed consumer expectations could build brand loyalty, attract new patients, and generate a competitive advantage.

Three strategies to walk patients through the digital front door

A digital front door can help remove barriers and create a more seamless experience for the health care consumer. It can include everything from digitally scheduling appointments, enabling virtual interactions, and managing health. Here’s a look at three strategies hospitals and health systems should consider for launching or enhancing their digital front door:

1.   Create an attractive experience

  • Establish an experience that health care consumers can rely upon and trust. This experience should remind them of your brand and create a level of trust that your organization is always available to support their health care journey.
  • Consolidate systems and workflows efficiently to increase consumer satisfaction rates and ease the work of the provider.
  • Use nudges, feedback loops, and outreach communications to measure and improve the patient experience.
  • Consider conversational artificial intelligence (AI). Chatbots, for example, could automate some interactions and gather patient data. This could give clinicians time to have more meaningful conversations with patients. Another example is the ability to support less-complex interactions using chatbots to guide a patient through administrative tasks or to answer simple, frequently asked questions. The balance of using human talent for more critical and complex functions can ease overall labor costs while keeping the one-on-one interaction with the patient in the moment that matters.
  • Capture and consolidate key patient information in one record, including: clinical, demographic, financial, preferences, and other interactions in order to provide a complete 360-degree view of the overall relationship with the individual.

2. Establish a digital foundation

  • Ensure health care consumers have access to an accurate cross-channel view of physician schedules to maximize access and clinical use.
  • Balance human and digital interactions. Digital-interaction tools, for example, can help a clinician reduce wait times and support better use of administrative human talent from routine and simple tasks to higher-level problem solving.
  • Set expectations around likely out-of-pocket costs by using digital tools. This should include patients who are enrolled in health plans linked to health-savings accounts (HSAs).
  • Make it easy for patients and hospital representatives to access information digitally, including scheduling, financial clearing, and billing.
  • Keep patients informed about their diagnoses/treatments, and ensure they are able to review clinician profiles in a consumer-friendly way.

3. Redefine the consumer/patient relationship

  • Offer a communication channel based on a patient’s specific needs. Patient-appointment reminders and administrative information like pricing and billing are examples of non-clinical interactions that can be pushed digitally. Care-management directives, discharge instructions, medication management, and refill requests can support voice conversations and ultimately support the patient at the moment that it matters to them.
  • Consider offering opportunities to integrate wearables and other self-service tools to collect biometric data.
  • Offer access to virtual care, health coaching, or low-acuity services.
  • Implement apps that combine clinical and non-clinical services. Patients should be able to use a mobile device to view their medical record, schedule appointments, pay for parking, estimate copay amounts and deductibles, check HSA balances, and pay medical bills.
  • Leverage personalized chat and text for immediate engagement with patients.
  • Improve critical patient access key performance indicators (KPIs), including first-call resolution and call handling from auto-populating screens with synced client information.

Digital front doors should open to a seamless experience

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused consumers to become more cautious, it has also helped many become more empowered when it comes to their health. Some consumers (and their family members) have taken a more active role in managing care via apps and websites as our colleague Steve Burrill noted in his May 28 blog. As patients return for postponed services, hospitals and health systems should focus on delivering a more engaging and interactive digital experience.

A digital front door can help hospitals and health systems enhance the patient experience across platforms and facilities and engage consumers where they live and work. There are a variety of reasons why hospitals and health systems are working to create a digital experience for consumers. A digital front door could help improve access to care, make triaging and other processes more efficient, improve health outcomes, and enhance the patient-clinician experience.

A digital front door that eliminates barriers and offers a holistic view of the consumer can be critical to driving patient loyalty and business growth while improving the overall well-being of a health system’s patient population. It also could be imperative to survival.

Acknowledgement: Jay Compton


1. Your digital front door starts well before your website, NRC Health, June 15, 2020

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Summer Knight

Summer Knight

Managing Director | Deloitte Consulting LLP

Summer is a managing director in Deloitte Consulting’s Life Sciences & Health Care practice, where she leads the Virtual Health Product portfolio as well as the Virtual Health Platform Enablement practice for the firm. As a physician-executive, Summer specializes in the human experience within health care, helping organizations and clients create patient-centric, consumer-oriented health care delivery systems. With a special focus on strategic growth in the evolving health care economy, business model innovation, consumer-driven product and service strategies, and digital health, Summer’s passion and priority is humanizing health care. As a paramedic-turned-physician, Summer’s perspective and knowledge in the field are informed from more than 20 years of health care experience.