The Insider’s Guide to Implementing Digital Front Doors

Photo of Lauren McGillLauren McGill
October 7, 2021
... min read

An effective digital front door needs to be much more than just the entry point into the system. Consider the front door of an office building—it is not only an entrance but it also leads to a receptionist to guide visitors and help you complete administrative tasks; a map or legend by the stairs or elevator; and a security guard. Therefore, office building visitors aren’t just offered an access point to the building, but also the opportunity to engage with its offerings and navigate through the building as needed.

At a glance:
Symptom checkers provide an easy entry point into digital front doors for many organizations. Illustration by Magdalena Kościańska.

The term "digital front door" is becoming a common buzzword but lacks a consistent definition. To address this, KLAS Research released a report on September 28, 2021 with 27 healthcare providers sharing what the term means to them. Here are the results:

95% of respondents mentioned finding and arranging care.

  • symptom checkers, chatbots, provider search tools, scheduling, call centers, and patient check-ins.

50% of respondents mentioned ​​pre-visit digital marketing and patient acquisition.

  • marketing outreach tools, search engine optimization tools, customer relationship management systems, email campaigns, and social media content.

25% of respondents mentioned post-care digital engagement.

  • remote patient monitoring, wellness apps, education, medication management, and post-visit follow-ups.

15% of respondents mentioned digital care tools used during visits.

  • digital intensive care units, specialty telehealth consultations, on-site fall prevention, and on-site wayfinding.

As shown in these results, digital front doors are typically used to address administrative tasks (e.g., scheduling appointments and making payments) and medical tasks (e.g., checking symptoms and triaging severity of illness) and may include:

  • Triage
  • Specialist referral assistance
  • Appointment scheduling
  • Intake
  • Call Center
  • Invoice inquiries
  • Medical library navigation
  • FAQ
  • Telemedicine options
  • Chat with a doctor
  • Pre-visit recommendations
  • Pre-lab instructions

In this article, we’ll dive into the benefits, options, and challenges of implementing digital front doors.

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Digital Front Doors for Healthcare Organizations 101

The benefits of digital front doors

To understand the potential benefits of digital front doors, consider how the world of banking and finance has evolved in the last 10 to 15 years. Not that long ago, almost any banking transaction required a trip to the branch or at least an ATM. But now, banking tasks have been centralized into a single powerful app on our phone, where we can check our balance, trade shares, deposit checks, pay bills and friends, and more. The healthcare equivalent is currently unfolding and promises to bring various patient access points together, offering seamless navigation and massive value for patients.

At the same time, patient behavior is quickly changing. More people than ever are searching online for nearby providers to book appointments online. Fortunately, digital front doors are well-positioned to help patients get the right care at the right time by matching patients to appropriate services and treatment.

Overall, digital front doors offer significant benefits to patients, including the ability to:

  • Reduce delays in care by streamlining the care path (e.g. self-scheduling options, expedited referrals to specialists, etc.)
  • Improve patient journeys and outcomes
  • Decrease healthcare costs by reducing unnecessary utilization of high-cost services
  • Collect better analytics and insights to address customer churn and low conversion rates

The challenges and opportunities of digital front doors

Just a few years ago, the biggest challenge in digital front door adoption was the lack of tech literacy amongst end users. Since then, the mindset of end users has changed rapidly. Now almost everyone uses a digital device for many aspects of their everyday lives. The current challenges with digital front doors revolve around clinical credibility, privacy/regulatory concerns, getting executive buy-in, and tackling technical challenges.

Privacy and regulatory compliance

Since health data is amongst the most sensitive data, privacy is a huge concern when adopting any kind of healthcare technology. Organizations adopting digital front doors must ensure regulatory compliance (e.g., HIPAA, CE Class 1, EU-GDPR, ISO:13485). To do so, it’s essential to work closely with privacy boards and/or partner with a compliant technology vendor. It’s also important to recognize various privacy laws within a single country and even state (e.g., Texas and California in the US have especially stringent privacy laws.)

A special area of regulatory focus is securing user authorization to exchange data between entities. For example, a major goal of many organizations is connecting electronic medical records (EMRs) into ecosystems so health profiles can all be stored in one location. Creating a health profile and connecting all the systems is the holy grail.

Getting the whole team on board

Another significant challenge to front door implementation is getting everyone within a healthcare organization on board with its implementation. Change is hard, and there may be resistance to “bring the bots.” Consider the resistance of many healthcare organizations to adopting social media—expect similar pushback when proposing digital front doors.

To tackle this pushback within organizations, it’s important to first identify key stakeholders within the organization whose buy-in is required to get things off the ground. These likely include the IT team, clinical staff, compliance teams, and more.

Best practices for digital front doors

Build trust

No one will use technology they don’t trust. Since ethical data is such a hot topic amongst the public, it is important to offer transparency about what kind of data is collected and how it will be used. Choosing configurable tools allows healthcare organizations to decide how users will be identified and how data will be encrypted.

Consider language options

Offering different language options can be a value-add to the digital front door. However, a multilingual option may be mandatory or non-essential, depending on local needs and regulations. Keep in mind that natural language processing (NLP) may not be as strong across all languages since this is a developing technology.

Create a unifying experience

Regardless of the type of door selected, it’s essential to look for a unifying experience. For example, can the chosen technology access different data sources? (e.g., consolidating insurance coverage, eligibility, labs, etc.). Look for solutions that can be easily integrated and connected so that the physicians, nurses, and other health system employees don't have to open multiple programs or transfer data manually. A unified experience removes friction from a patient’s journey since they don’t have to repeat the same information over and over again.

Focus on UX

Digital front doors need to work for everyone, including seniors and individuals with various disabilities. Therefore, there needs to be a strong focus on UX so that a digital front door is really easy to use. For example, it is best not to have any downloads required in telehealth and instead have a link seamlessly connect users with a provider.

Take an iterative approach

The implementation of front doors represents a learning curve for everyone involved. Therefore, a gradual approach to implementation is often essential to getting buy-in from an organization. Once there is some initial buy-in, it’s easier to expand and get additional resources. It is important to have an intelligently designed rollout plan, so that as you iterate and expand your digital front door, all the components will integrate and work together seamlessly.

Promote digital front doors

Digital access points are new, so healthcare organizations need to educate and nudge patients to use them instead of reverting to the status quo of making phone calls and in-office visits.

Questions to consider when creating a digital front door strategy:

  • Does this solution fill a gap in care?
  • How can we provide a personalized patient experience?
  • What services do we already provide?
  • What data do we already have?
  • How can we create a single central point that is useful for patients?

The future of digital front doors

As technology within healthcare disrupts the status quo, the role of digital front doors will expand. At the same time, these digital tools will only become more powerful and valuable as they are used and improved upon by a wide variety of healthcare organizations. One area in particular to look forward to is the standardization of healthcare data. This will be a game-changer as far as interoperability (e.g., collecting and sharing data) between various healthcare organizations is concerned. This change alone stands to drastically improve the experience of digital front doors for everyone.

Symptom checkers provide an easy entry point into digital front doors for many organizations. As a ready-made and low-cost solution, symptom checkers can be offered for free and then linked to personalized services, such as telehealth visits.

Curious to know more? Watch our webinar with industry experts Adam Walker (Senior Product Manager at Microsoft) and Dr. Sailaja Vishnubhotla (Director of Product Management at Walgreens) as they discuss their insider experience in designing and implementing digital front doors.

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Digital Front Doors for Healthcare Organizations 101