The Digital Front Door: Early wins and advice from leading health systems


Two weeks ago, executives from 40+ health systems including University of Kansas Health System, Piedmont Healthcare, and Allina Health gathered with AVIA at the latest Digital Front Door Action Forum. These health systems are early leaders in the efforts to provide an enhanced consumer digital experience, one that includes meaningful interactions and easy transactions between patient and providers. And one that can have a significant impact on new patient growth and market share as well as optimization of capacity across sites of care.

Noting early successes, such as a 200% increase in the volume of e-visits and over 10% of all appointments now scheduled online, they reported on key learnings, experiences with individual digital solutions, and why their health systems are making the Digital Front Door an organizational strategic priority. Four overarching themes emerged from these discussions over the two days:

1. Act now to both survive and thrive

It’s well known by now that health systems could lose 1 to 3 points of commercial share to digitally integrated competitors that aim to win on convenience and price. For the health systems in AVIA, the business case for a digital front door is even more simple: “If we don’t, someone else will.” Several Members are located in saturated markets for healthcare like Chicago. These Members are implementing a digital front door for three strategic reasons: 1) to attract new patients, 2) to improve patient experience and therefore drive better utilization and loyalty, and finally 3) to evolve into the health system of the future and distinguish itself in a crowded health system market.

One Member is taking urgent action to achieve these three strategic goals and is seeing encouraging and early results. In its second year, its e-visits program has seen double and even triple the volume throughout this year. Both new and current patients are participating in the program, which offers excellent convenient care options including extended evening hours and even weekend hours. It will be evaluating the success of the program based on several KPIs, including saved physician time, saved brick and mortar investments, saved expenses from ED visits, and appointment conversions.

 2. Align incentives to create accountability and share metrics to motivate 

Multiple health systems in attendance shared how they have implemented incentive structures that hold leaders accountable for creating a digital front door. One Children’s Hospital shared that they’ve created an incentive goal for the leadership team around the success of their digital front door. This keeps the entire team unified and focused in its pursuit of providing a better digital experience for its customers. Another Member also has a corporate goal and incentive for the number of online visits scheduled. The goal for 2020, as mandated by their CEO, is that 13.5% of all scheduled appointments happen online; the team has already achieved 10% online scheduled appointments.

This strategy also reveals an important ingredient for success – creating and tracking metrics. Setting clear metrics, like the number of online appointments scheduled or number of virtual visits, and then sharing them with the broader organization can help shine a spotlight on a digital front door program. As one Member put it, “metrics help build credibility across the organization. They say, ‘hey this thing works!’ and can become a powerful operational tool.” 

Health systems that are still curious about which metrics make the most sense to track can look to AVIA for the answer key. Through our work with health systems over the past five years, we’ve seen what good to great looks like for each capability that comprises the digital front door.

3. Recruit champions for change  

These 40+ health systems that are pursuing a digital front door are taking different routes; some are starting with online scheduling while others are first building up care navigation and self-triage capabilities. But the one thing every system has in common is the understanding that at the end of the day, this is not about technology, but about organizational change management and the hard work of changing human behavior.” To recruit champions for change, many health systems have found that cross-functional teams are the best bet to advance the digital front door.

For example, one Member has created a cross-functional team to evaluate vendors for their patient-centered scheduling program. Representatives from marketing, IT, billing, provider relations, etc. came together to view demos of solutions and offer feedback. Leaders noted that in the short term it can be painful to get that many people to a demo, but it’s worth it in the long term; taking people along on the journey will make them advocates and change agents, setting the stage for an easier execution.

In addition to a cross-functional team, it’s no surprise that systems cited executive leadership buy-in as a critical ingredient for change. Another Member spoke about how its executive leaders were all bought in and “committed to the core initiative of unstoppable schedule-ability.” Getting the right people at the right level to the table is no small feat, but the payoff is worth it. When the message comes from top down, then everyone in the entire organization understands the importance.

4. Don’t forget about the humans

Several leaders from a Member health system took the stage to speak passionately about the importance of converging the traditional with digital. The health system primarily serves a rural community that can greatly benefit from the increased access that digital solutions can offer, but it’s also a community that still wants person-to-person touchpoints. It believes that the humanity of medicine shouldn’t get lost in the race for technology enhanced care. Other Members feel the same; one has even created a “patient advisory council” for focus groups and studies to ensure that its virtual programs retain a human touch.

Other systems have also found that Voice of the Consumer and patient journey mapping exercises can highlight patient needs that may not be immediately obvious to operational and clinical personnel within a health system, which helps put the focus back on the consumer.

Finally, several health systems are looking specifically to their physicians to help them bridge the gap between traditional and digital. As one leader put it, “physician involvement is so important because we need to learn how to bring a person-to-person perspective into virtual care.” This group is highly sought after for their input, especially around capabilities like provider access where they can share their abilities, templates, and tips around centralizing management.

Looking ahead to 2020

As these 40+ health systems look ahead to 2020 they all have a single priority: to make a significant jump in their digital maturity and stay competitive in the midst of emerging disruption. In partnership with AVIA, which is continually curating learnings across these efforts and finding best practices and solutions, they’ll work faster together –  to prioritize and sequence the capabilities of a digital front door, find the right solutions, measure progress, and build organizational alignment.

Learn more about making your health system competitive by committing your organization to this work with us. Click here to reach out today.

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Learn more about making your health system competitive by committing your organization to this work with us. Click here to reach out today.