Opening the digital front door for patients

** By David Jirku

The healthcare experience today can still feel like a trip down an ever-winding road for patients. Appointment juggling, navigating unfamiliar clinics and hospitals, and endless waiting rooms. These in-person experiences can be made even worse when you consider the added stress of an illness or injury. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The unprecedented adoption of virtual care has permanently shifted attitudes and behaviours. Digital prescreening ahead of an appointment has become the relative norm, becoming a valuable first-point of contact for both patient and healthcare providers.

What if we were able to take this process one step further, and create a digital front door — one that could improve communication between patients and physicians, reduce overhead costs, and drive better experiences and outcomes? With available digital tools, this vision can become a reality.


Defining the digital front door

The digital front door is a strategy for engaging patients at every major touchpoint throughout their healthcare system experience, using technology that patients have already adopted for everyday use. For healthcare providers, it combines networking, data and analytics, collaboration and security tools to provide a single picture of the patient journey.

Pre-visit, patients can choose their preferred method of scheduling a visit — connecting over the phone or through a convenient app with access to past appointments, referrals and test results. From there, patients can prepare for an upcoming appointment from home, doing the relevant prescreening questionnaire before they even step foot into a clinic.

As the patient journey continues into the doctor’s office, hospital or lab, it can support navigation by using a wayfinding app to quickly locate the right office, and ease check-in by referencing necessary information securely saved in their digital patient history.

During the appointment itself, physicians have access to all the information they need, without having to rehash the intake form, ensuring time in the exam room is focused on assessment and treatment plan. When needed, clinicians can meet with specialists from anywhere through chat or video to make sure patients have access to a timely diagnosis and treatment.

A digital front door provides healthcare providers with one consolidated view of a patient’s entire journey, improving communication and the flow of information between care provider and patient. But the patient journey doesn’t stop once they leave their appointment

Going beyond the hospital’s walls

In-home monitoring through smart, connected devices can cut down on doctor appointments and follow-ups without sacrificing care. Doctors can keep tabs on progress, and patients can choose to call or simply communicate digitally.

In Alberta, the MedROAD project is connecting more than 30 patients with physicians in a virtual clinic being piloted in the town of Pincher Creek. Stemming from research at the University of Alberta, the MedROAD project uses advanced data analytics and cloud-based computing to assess and monitor patients at home. Tests can be done by a nurse using a kit in the patient’s home or at a remote clinic. At the same time, the patient is in contact with a primary care physician through the MedROAD multimedia platform, which allows for asynchronous communication.

As Canada’s population ages, and chronic disease and illness continue to rise, at-home monitoring can play a vital role in intervening early and managing chronic care, providing critical and primary care services to remote communities and reducing emergency room visits. The Digital Front Door and at-home monitoring can play a vital role in providing equitable access to care for everyone and improving long-term outcomes.

Building an inclusive system for all

As the future of healthcare transitions to a hybrid model, blending both virtual and in-person experiences, we must ensure it is being developed with accessibility in mind. These technology platforms must be easy and safe to use. That includes clear interfaces, multiple paths for communication based on patient preferences (phone, text, video) and no confusing lockouts if passwords or login information is forgotten, without compromising security.

While the Digital Front Door and at-home monitoring can extend care into remote communities, we also can’t make the assumption that technology, or high-speed internet bandwidth, is always going to be available. Ensuring there’s a fall back solution that can provide a similar experience, whether it’s in-person or over landline, without sacrificing the quality of care will need to be a key consideration.

There’s been lots of changes over the past 15 months to the patient experience, opening doors and new ways of thinking to how technology can support healthcare organizations and patients, ultimately creating a healthier future for all.

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David Jirku is the national healthcare lead of solutions architecture at Cisco Canada.