During the normal flu season, the waiting rooms of hospitals and doctors’ offices are a source of concern for many patients. Cramped sitting rooms have the potential to expose patients to illness. The coronavirus pandemic only amplified this concern. It forced many medical practices to close their common areas and have patients wait for their appointments from the relative safety of their vehicles.
While increasing patient safety, this solution has its own downsides: it’s hardly comfortable for the truly ill, and plummeting winter temperatures can be a problem for patients facing long-waits for delayed appointments. In response to that problem, many medical practices have started to emphasize telehealth.
Digital appointments are now a normal patient experience. Polling suggests 76 percent of people today view telehealth as an option they’re willing to consider for medical care – even after the pandemic has receded. Insurance carriers are also embracing the growth of telehealth. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, for example, have temporarily approved 80 new telehealth services.
The telehealth trend is poised to put many patients in greater control of their healthcare. And it’s an example of how social distancing, a necessity during the coronavirus pandemic, has forced healthcare providers to embrace digital front doors.
The concept of the digital front doors recognizes that, as health services increasingly embrace online interactions, medical practices need to focus on providing comprehensive digital services. That goes beyond the online presence that many doctors’ offices already have – like online appointment booking, the ability to access health records, and check test results.
Those force patients into largely passive roles. But the concept of digital front doors emphasizes a patient’s desire to control every aspect of their healthcare experience. One of the biggest benefits of digital front doors is that, unlike offices, they can always be open. That enables patients to access information crucial to managing their health on a schedule convenient to them.
Digital front doors also enable the remote triage of patients. Patients who find themselves with symptoms of an unknown disease can become afraid – a problem that can be amplified by the barriers that the pandemic erected. Virtual triaging helps patients access diagnoses in real-time. It informs the patients as to the steps they need to take to get better. This information eliminates the need for an in-person doctor’s visit. Instead, patients can seek out further medical specialists better suited to their unique treatment needs.
Another service that digital front doors can provide is remote patient monitoring after discharge from a hospital or receiving treatment from a primary care physician. Remote tracking devices, like digital pulse oximeters and thermometers, are already being used by doctors to monitor high-risk patients recovering from the coronavirus. This technology allows doctors to intervene quickly if patients take a turn for the worse.
By automating many processes, digital front doors also streamline the running of medical offices, which can increase efficiency, raise profits, and contribute to a better patient experience. Time-consuming in-person processes, like reviewing a patient’s medical history, can be done through a pre-appointment check-in, conducted either online or over the phone. That too can be scheduled at the patients’ convenience. That means that sick patients spend less time in medical facilities, where they can infect others.
Digital front doors reduce wait times for patients, who can return to their daily activities, and for medical professionals, who can spend more time meaningfully interacting with other patients.
By automating and digitizing many of the processes essential to the running of medical facilities, digital front doors can provide data that doctors’ offices and hospitals can use to evaluate their own efficiency. Not only does that help to eliminate waste and inefficiencies, making businesses more profitable, but it also helps to provide a better end-result for all involved.
Katherine Revello is a resident of North Kingstown, Rhode Island and has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post and the Foundation for Economic Education.