Unlocking the digital front door to improve experiences in the pediatric care environment
As consumer expectations start to get higher and higher, healthcare organizations are quickly embracing the idea of creating a digital front door for the patient experience. Enterprise leaders are aiming to emulate their peers in other industries, such as travel, banking, and hospitality, by offering seamless digital entry points into the care continuum and empowering consumers to complete administrative processes quickly and easily from their own devices.
But healthcare is, of course, a little different than those other industries. The complex and fragmented nature of the health system means that even something as simple as making an appointment with the correct provider can require complicated coordination between payers, providers, and patients.
These factors don’t have to stop healthcare organizations from providing a delightful digital experience to patients and their families. But they add to the challenge, said Dr. David Seo, CIO of Nicklaus Children’s Health System in South Florida.
“The goal is to make all of these behind-the-scenes issues as invisible as possible so that consumers can be active participants in their own care and don’t abandon interactions along the way because they get exasperated or confused,” he said. “No one can afford for that to happen. As healthcare becomes more commoditized, consumers need to have ownership over the care process without getting bogged down in paperwork.”
This is particularly important in the pediatric environment, Seo added, since both adults and children need to be equally prepared to understand and follow treatment plans.
“The stakes might be a little higher in pediatrics for a couple of reasons,” he said. “First, parents take their kids’ healthcare very seriously – sometimes more seriously than they take their own health – and that can increase the tension in an already-difficult situation. We need to think carefully about how to keep parents or guardians informed and involved while ensuring that the kids are getting everything they need, both clinically and emotionally.”
“Second, there are added burdens and anxieties for the adult when getting healthcare for a child. There’s making sure their kids aren’t running around or crying the waiting room; there are the diaper bags and the babies to hold; there’s taking off work or finding care for other children or family members during the appointment. I’m a parent myself, and I can tell you that when I can do the paperwork at home before getting everyone out the door, and when I know what to expect when I get there, I’m a much happier and calmer person.”
Behind-the-scenes technology is the key to taming the complexity for patients, caregivers, and other loved ones.
“It’s important to find the right balance of centralization and distribution,” said Seo. “On an everyday basis, the various components of the digital front door are run and maintained by the business owners. Each piece has to fit into those individual workflows. But they also have to flow upwards into our overall digital transformation efforts, and the data has to be available everywhere it needs to go.”
“Taking a platform-based approach to infrastructure allows different stakeholders across the enterprise to develop the processes they need while making sure that everything ultimately works together for the benefit of the end-user. It requires a lot of collaboration across the enterprise, and a lot of rethinking about how administrative and operational processes interact with digital ones.”
Using wayfinding to build the digital front door experience
Wayfinding is a key example, he continued. Nicklaus Children’s partners with Gozio Health to provide interior and exterior campus navigation services that are closely tied into many other aspects of the patient experience, such as the order in which patients engage with services, the ability to schedule new appointments, and access to the physician directory and other important information.
“Any large campus can be disorienting, especially when staff are telling you to go here, then there, and then across the way to the other building,” said Seo. “You might need to register in one place first before you can go somewhere else, so these sequences matter. Using technology to provide customized, step-by-step directions is fantastic. But we also need to make sure our protocols are as simple, effective, and intuitive as possible so we’re not bouncing people around unnecessarily.”
Collaborating across the organization to identify pain points in patient-facing processes can be very illuminating. Peers in different departments may find they have been giving patients conflicting instructions or that their workflows don’t line up as well as they could.
“A technology implementation always reveals interesting differences in the way we work across teams,” said Seo. “We love having those internal discussions and mapping them back to the technologies we’re using to further optimize what our patients are experiencing. These discussions maximize the impact of our technology tools, because we’re able to become more strategic about the functionalities that sit behind the digital front door.”
“Everyone has skin in the game when it comes to the patient experience,” he concluded. “In the same way that we want patients to take ownership of the process, we need to work together to design experiences that merge the real world and the digital front door in a way that’s helpful for everyone. Technology is a powerful catalyst for change, and it can help us ensure that the high quality of our clinical care is equally matched by how easily patients and their families interact with our health system.”
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Jennifer Bresnick is a journalist and freelance content creator with a decade of experience in the health IT industry. Her work has focused on leveraging innovative technology tools to create value, improve health equity, and achieve the promises of the learning health system.