The 7 key considerations for evaluating digital health platforms | Monica Bolbjerg

They will allow you to see if your current digital health ecosystem is up to the challenge of building next-generation relationships with your patients.

Patient portals are everywhere, but they aren’t enough.

Nearly every hospital, health system, and physician practice has implemented some type of portal, but a true integrated digital health platform goes far beyond the basics of simply providing test results and messaging patients. As consumer demands for digital healthcare experiences continue to change, it’s time to evaluate whether your organization is properly equipped to meet patient expectations.

Successful consumer-centered healthcare requires hospitals and facilities to assess their current capabilities, identify any gaps, and make strategic investments in the tools and technologies to deliver exceptional care that exceeds expectations.

Patient portals are just the beginning.

During the mid 2010s, patient-engagement technologies quickly exploded onto the healthcare scene. In 2014, Stage 2 of the EHR Incentive Programs made it a requirement for most hospitals and physicians to implement a patient portal that was capable of engaging individuals in their own care. By 2018, more than 90 percent of providers had some form of the technology in place.

At the time, patient portals were a welcome and necessary step toward digital health engagement. However, just a few years later, the shift toward consumerism and the pressures of value-based care has produced new expectations that far exceed the capabilities of first-generation patient portals.

Patients are now demanding a high level of personalization that follows them throughout their care journey. In fact, most patients prefer that their healthcare providers offer the same type of digital conveniences that exist in other areas of their daily life. Patients also have a lower tolerance for disruptive events that are caused by a lack of access to requested information and follow-up support.

The 7 key questions to ask your organization.
As you are evaluating digital health solutions and platforms, here are seven questions to ask yourself about whether your current digital health ecosystem is up to the challenge of building next-generation relationships with your patients.

1. Does our current digital health platform align with our clinical goals?

Digital health platforms aren’t just for show. They need to actively enable the delivery of quality patient care. Unfortunately, many legacy patient portals have very few clinical management features – and fewer features that actually improve outcomes. To be most effective, a digital health platform should include remote patient monitoring (RPM), patient facing care plans, integrated telehealth services, and secure messaging options to keep patients and providers connected throughout the entire health journey.

2. Does our current platform enable us to meet our financial targets?

The right digital health platform should achieve a solid return on investment. Patient-facing tools should increase consumer satisfaction and patient loyalty by offering experiences that outperform the local competition, including online bill pay, scheduling and check-in, and appointment reminders. Digital tools that foster more efficient, rewarding patient relationships also play a role in retaining staff and avoiding provider burnout, which is critical for allowing success in a tough economic environment.

3. Is our digital health platform seamlessly integrated with our EHR?

The electronic health record is the beating heart of any organization’s health IT infrastructure. Intuitive workflows that foster seamless communication between the EHR and the digital health platform are essential for making information accessible to patients and providers alike. While many EHR vendors now offer patient portal packages in addition to their main product, it is important to double-check that their clinical and administrative functions can truly integrate into your existing infrastructure. This is especially important for organizations that use more than one EHR.

4. Does our current platform produce actionable insights with customized patient management tools?

Data that isn’t directly informing a decision is just a collection of bits and bytes. A true digital health platform should include patient risk monitoring, compliance alerts, clinical decision support algorithms, and automated order sets to make it easier for providers to proactively manage their patients. These tools simplify workflows and make sure that your organization is continually learning and refining its patient management strategies.

5. Is our digital health infrastructure private and secure?

In an era of near-constant data breaches and ransomware attacks, healthcare organizations need to remain steadfast about privacy and security. A HIPAA-compliant ecosystem is required for safeguarding sensitive data and staying on the right side of the law. Most Americans indicate that they want their data to be both more accessible and better protected. If you have any doubts about how your current digital health vendor handles privacy and security, it may be time to investigate other options that give you more confidence in this non-negotiable aspect of health IT.

6. Can we scale our current infrastructure as we grow?

Growth-minded practices, hospitals and health systems may find that improved digital patient services increase retention rates, reduce appointment cancellations, and expand patient panels. Digital health platforms must be interoperable and based on recognized technical standards in order to grow and expand alongside the organization. Make sure that you carefully assess your existing technology for the potential to scale and adapt to new infrastructure demands. If your systems aren’t flexible enough to encourage long-term success, you might want to consider making a switch.

7. Is there access to technical support and resources from our vendor to prevent overloading our staff with technical concerns?

Your relationships with your vendors are just as important as your relationships with patients. Vendors must be available to provide robust, knowledgeable technical support so that highly trained clinicians don’t have to function as their own help desk. A vendor that fails to live up to its promises may cause major downstream issues in operational efficiency and clinical effectiveness, so you should carefully vet potential partners for their responsiveness, their experience, and the dedicated resources available to your staff.

The time is now.

If your existing digital health capabilities come up short in any of the above seven areas, it’s time to think about upgrading to a new platform that can help you meet expectations and support the success of your organization’s clinical and financial goals.

Monica Bolbjerg, MD, is a physician, entrepreneur, and digital health pioneer. She is the co-founder and CEO of Qure4u, and has been a speaker at health innovation think tank forums.