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Why Healthcare’s Digital Front Door Needs Multiple Entryways

New healthcare consumer surveys show that patients want multiple ways to begin digitally engaging with providers, suggesting healthcare needs many entryways for its digital front door.

The digital front door in healthcare doesn’t just need to be opened wide; it needs to be opened wide and it needs to lead to multiple entryways, according to new survey data gathered by Wakefield Research on behalf of Kyruus, obtained via email.

That’s because patients want to access their healthcare in numerous ways, ranging from online research to digital self-scheduling options to self-service patient pre-registration, the survey of 1,000 healthcare consumers over age 18 found.

This data comes as the medical industry works to adapt to trends in healthcare consumerism. On the hook for more of their own medical costs than ever before, patients are becoming savvy shoppers for healthcare. The typical healthcare consumer might research a medical provider and compare cost and quality scores, as well as other factors important to that person, before selecting a provider.

With the rise in healthcare consumerism comes renewed attention to the digital technologies that create a seamless experience. Patients are experiencing healthcare the way they might other service sectors, and medicine has had to open up a digital front door to meet demand.

But this latest data suggests there isn’t one single knob healthcare needs to turn; patients are interested in learning about and accessing their healthcare across multiple different channels, meaning multiple entryways for the digital front door.

Foremost, patients are looking for more information about medical providers using various resources, the most common of which exist on the web. About two-thirds (61 percent) of respondents said they research new providers online, and nearly 80 percent of them consult two or more online sources to corroborate that research.

After a general internet search, patients are most likely to look at an insurance provider website, a healthcare organization website, or a content website like a WebMD. This underscores the importance of having a good online reputation. Ensuring an organization’s online footprint is accurate and up-to-date will help patients make informed decisions about healthcare access.

Although the most commonly accessed information source, patients don’t entirely trust their online searches, at least not as much as they trust healthcare organizations themselves. Organization websites and the word of providers and staff are the most trusted sources of health information (44 percent trust), followed by general internet search results (24 percent trust).

Ensuring there are multiple avenues by which patients can learn about a new provider will be central to organizations working to build bigger patient panels.

And once patients can learn more about those providers, it will be critical to meet their needs to ensure that patients actually access care there. Nearly every patient surveyed (93 percent) said a provider accepting their insurance is extremely important, while 87 percent said clinical expertise about their health condition is also extremely important.

Reputation, appointment availability, and close location are also extremely important to patients.

Patient care access channels are less important, the survey showed. Fewer respondents rated things like offering online booking and virtual visits as extremely important for selecting a provider, but many did agree that those factors are somewhat important.

And when closing the loop on the digital front door, omnichannel care access tools will be important, especially when meeting the competing needs of different generations of patients.

For example, Millennials and Gen Xers are more interested in booking an appointment online, with 55 and 46 percent reporting such, respectively. Only 26 percent of Baby Boomers and 41 percent of Gen Z said the same.

Across all age groups, 49 percent of patients still prefer to book appointments over the phone, meaning that healthcare organizations need to have multiple modalities by which they can meet scheduling needs.

Healthcare organizations are falling short in this regard, with healthcare staff shortages hitting hospital and health system call centers hard. Less than half of people who tried to call for an appointment actually got one on the books on their first try, with around one in five respondents saying they experienced a long wait time while calling.

Although 64 percent of callers eventually did get an appointment, 30 percent gave up, with 20 percent actually getting an appointment at another provider or foregoing care altogether. Notably, 6 percent ended up using an online self-service scheduling system after being on hold for a long time.

The industry’s staffing shortages are putting providers between a rock and a hard place. Some organizations may choose to further highlight their online self-service scheduling options to ease the burden on the call center, while some automation systems could also lessen the pressure.

Although the phone is still the prevailing preference for appointment scheduling, the survey found a new focus on digital self-service for check-in. Seventy-nine percent of patients said they are extremely or very interested in using self-service resources to find information about the provider’s location, while 76 percent said they’d like to digitally enter their insurance information and confirm coverage before the visit.

Another 72 percent expressed strong interest in completing pre-visit questionnaires, like social determinants of health assessments, and 65 were interested in making self-serviced payments.

These consumer demands will require healthcare organizations to think differently about the digital front door. Once seen as the digital pathway to access care, the digital front door must not have a “no wrong entrance” policy, letting patients engage digitally with their providers in ways that are convenient to them.

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