The conversation around modern patient engagement tends to repeat the same common points, in which we can all agree that it is not where it should be–especially when it comes to making the most of modern digital tools. Given the multitude of channels that patients could potentially use to engage with your services, not to mention the variable individual factors that determine which channel is best suited for them, a one-channel solution is not the way to satisfy users. Only an omnichannel patient engagement strategy that includes multiple channels, meeting the patient where they want to be met, can significantly improve patient outcomes. The digital experience offered by healthcare organizations should ideally include all of the information and tools discussed in this article.
What Information Should My Website Contain?
Think of the website as your platform to improve patient care by giving them access to two key elements: information and digital tools.
The key information points on your website should contain the basic data patients need to familiarize themselves with your organization, structured in a way that matches what a user would be looking for, i.e., What services does this org offer? Where are the providers? How can I get there? The website is usually where we encounter a new patient for the first time, so the digital tools on the website should be more geared toward new patient acquisition.
At a minimum, a visitor needs to see the following three sections, with integrations to other apps and functions, so as to facilitate the patient’s journey from finding a desired service to scheduling an appointment:
- Find Services – e.g., cancer care, gynecology, etc. This should be prominent and easy to read, as it will be a prospective patient’s primary concern and expandable for more detail on your organization’s USPs for that service.
- Find A Provider – provider listings should integrate with information about the provider, such as their experience, qualifications, and possibly also reputation management software that contains customer ratings for the provider. This is also where you should link to an online scheduler for a seamless user experience.
- Find A Location – this function should integrate with navigation apps (e.g., Google, Apple, or Bing Maps) and, potentially, ride-share applications. As with the online scheduler, this makes it easier and more likely to complete the patient journey from search to appointment.
Not every user who visits your site will book an appointment immediately; they might only be looking for information. Your website should also host more engaging content that adds value for the visitor and makes them more likely to return. Examples of this kind of content include:
- New Patient Zone – an onboarding and orientation section for new users that links them to the most important information and tools with some guidance on getting started.
- Educational Suite – empower patients with educational materials from reputable sources covering medical conditions, symptoms, treatments, etc. Patient education can be delivered through text messaging, social media, and other means¹.
- Blog – a regularly updated blog that covers the introduction of new services, interesting developments in the medical field, and the achievements of your organization will let patients know that your company keeps up-to-date with the industry and informs them of new possibilities.
It’s also important that one advertises the digital tools for existing patients on their website so that this new (potential) patient knows what to expect once they become a patient. This point, in particular, is commonly overlooked by healthcare organizations.
Essential Digital Tools
Digital tools should empower patients to interact with their health system according to their preferences. An effective website provides the patient with the ability to get the same results no matter which channels they choose (for example, self-scheduling via a chatbot on the website versus finding a phone number they can use to call the scheduling team).
Your digital strategy should be all about providing different ways to achieve something, whether that be payments, appointment scheduling, or other activities. This starts with offering two main digital channels that serve as a digital front door for everything a patient might need:
By using secure credentials, patients should be able to access their personal health information and interact with healthcare services personalized to their needs. Medical records, prescriptions, vaccine records, scheduling, and telehealth tools should all be integrated into the patient portal and accessed by a single login. Multiple applications can be grouped together to use single sign-on (SSO) protocols–making it easier for the patient to access everything they need and only remember one password. By empowering the user to manage their healthcare needs, a patient portal keeps the patient proactive and engaged. At the same time, it saves on phone calls and administrative work for the healthcare organization.
To be clear, your mobile app is simply another version of your patient portal that is optimized for the unique advantages of mobile devices and should use the same login credentials. Provide a link to download your patient app on your website and perhaps a short starter guide. That way, patients browsing the mobile site can quickly switch to the app for a better, more personalized experience.
Why do you need a mobile app as well as a web-based patient portal? While both channels should offer the same key features to meet patients on their preferred platform, an app offers several advantages over a traditional web portal thanks to its integration with a smartphone. Apps provide a “stickier” experience for the user, which keeps them engaged and returning to the platform. Benefits of an app include:
- Faster, more convenient authentication such as biometric (face ID and fingerprint ID) or two-factor authentication on the same device the user is trying to access information on.
- Personalized experience based on location, browsing/spending habits, or other information that the user must authorize. This includes opportunities for more accurately targeted marketing actions on your behalf.
- Notifications for effective communication and alerts.
- Integration with wearable health devices for real-time health updates.
Key Features Of Your Patient Portal
Whether they access your services via the web patient portal or your mobile app, patients should still have the full suite of tools at their disposal, including:
- Chatbot – This can be used to facilitate access to other digital tools, e.g., the patient asks the chatbot a question and the bot directs them to the solution. However, for the smoothest experience, as many workflows as possible should be resolved within the chatbot itself, e.g., a patient can ask the chatbot to book an appointment for them and receive confirmation from the bot.
- Self-Scheduling – Research consistently shows that patients appreciate being able to schedule appointments online². This in-demand feature also lowers the barrier to entry for new patients who may be afraid of calling directly while also removing traffic from the call center. Ideally, self-scheduling should smoothly integrate with the source calendar (EHR or PM) in a dynamic view that shows bookings, cancellations, and schedule changes from both staff and patients in a real-time live feed.
- Wait Times – This is essential information for many patients and helps inform self-scheduling. Wait times can be integrated into find a provider/location workflows so that patients can view real-time waiting periods for all their options.
- Bill Pay – Statement-based payments should be offered to patients, as well as paying through the portal or mobile app. Letting patients pay how they want to will reduce missed or late payments. For friction-free payments that satisfy both patients and providers, the app or portal needs to support payment plans and saved cards on file. Healthcare payments can be obtuse and lead to confusion, delays, or unpaid bills, so in-app information on insurance claims that breaks down medical payments in easy-to-follow language can be implemented to make the bill pay process more digestible for patients and efficient for providers.
- Telehealth – Including video consultations, prescription renewals, and anything that can be safely carried out via the portal to make things more convenient for patients and staff. This can even integrate virtual waiting rooms, where patients can complete paperwork digitally before being connected to the doctor, much the same as if they were handed a clipboard in the office. Telehealth video conferencing shouldn’t be limited to one-to-one experiences but should be optimized to handle multi-person calls without issue, e.g., if a translator might also need to be present in the call for non-English speaking patients.
Benefits Of Digital Tools
Patient Acquisition and Retention
Ultimately, the above self-service digital tools facilitate easy workflows that can engage a patient and get them to take action online instead of bouncing off your site, neglecting their health, or taking a less efficient route such as using the call center.
Patients are consumers and expect a level of convenience from healthcare providers that can match what they are used to from industries such as online banking, e-commerce, on-demand delivery, and others. The healthcare sector is notoriously slow to adopt new technologies, but organizations that lead the way will gain significant advantages in efficiency, patient satisfaction, and customer retention.
The pain points for patients interacting with the healthcare system are well-known:
- long waits
- wasted time on hold or calling back and forth on busy lines
- confusing payment structures
- dense bureaucracy
- hard-to-manage paper trail
- slow/incomplete communication of patient information between the relevant practitioners.
A well-designed patient portal solves these problems by meeting patients where they want to be met–in their homes, on the go via their smartphones, in easy-to-understand and quickly completed workflows. Patients appreciate the superior user experience of an attractive and full-featured patient portal and will choose (and return to) the healthcare company that offers this.
Simplified workflows don’t only benefit patients! A lot of the abovementioned pain points are a result of outdated administrative processes and overworked staff on the healthcare organization’s side.
Physicians reportedly spend around 49% of their workday on administrative work and only 27% with patients in the clinic, with burnout and lower job satisfaction correlated to administrative burden³. It’s not enough to use EHR if the end result still requires more desk work from medical staff. Only by empowering the patient to handle much of the administration related to their needs can the burden on medical staff be reduced.
By using a patient portal to automate a lot of menial, redundant workflows, your organization will attract providers and staff who want to spend less time in administration and more time with patients. Not only will this have the happy effect of reducing costs and improving health outcomes due to efficiency savings, but it will also provide better job satisfaction and retention among medical personnel who get to focus on their calling. When it comes to attracting top talent, a reduced administrative burden and modern, streamlined workflows are a selling point that cannot be overlooked.
The “digital front door” is an approach to online healthcare products that integrates all aspects of a healthcare organization’s digital services into a multi-purpose application with a single secure sign-in. This format could be the way forward when it comes to presenting multiple channels seamlessly for patients, providers, and medical professionals. Specialist vendors with experience in the healthcare sector, such as Bridge, can provide such multi-channel patient engagement platforms for providers to quickly roll out their own branded digital front door with personalized tools.
- Kuwabara, A., Su, S., & Krauss, J. (2019). Utilizing Digital Health Technologies for Patient Education in Lifestyle Medicine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Link. Accessed September 12, 2023.
- Black Book Market Research. 19 Recent Healthcare Tech Start-Ups Attract Instant Consumer Appeal, Black Book Survey. Link. Accessed September 12, 2023.
- Sinsky, Christine; Colligan, Lacey; Li, Ling; Prgomet, Mirela; Reynolds, Sam; Goeders, Lindsey; Westbrook, Johanna; Tutty, Michael; Blike, George (2016). Allocation of Physician Time in Ambulatory Practice: A Time and Motion Study in 4 Specialties. Annals of Internal Medicine. Link. Accessed September 12, 2023.