This was originally published in Canadian Healthcare Technology’s March 2023 issue – download here

Two of the most important things when it comes to successfully delivering healthcare are high-quality information and convenience for the patient. That means bringing all the critical information and functionality together on one unified platform that supports personalized care and better-informed decision-making.

The ideal mechanism for communication with consumers is a user-friendly Digital Front Door (DFD). This unified approach can be a game-changer, but it is also heavily dependent on interoperability, to make it all possible.

Game-changing Digital Front Door rewires healthcare.

Using a DFD, people have the ability to interact with the healthcare system as they do with their financial, travel, insurance and retail transactions. It’s how life works now and how healthcare should be too—the consumer or patient is a full and equal participant in their care team and the decisions that are made about them. To that end, a DFD should operate as a self-service healthcare adviser or concierge, guiding people to the best action for their health while also avoiding unnecessary visits to the ED.

The DFD encompasses a comprehensive multi-channel strategy that typically starts with providing advice and guidance regarding where and when to seek medical advice and care. It functions as a healthcare navigation service, guiding patients to the best level and location of care for their situation. This is not hospital-centered care; instead, the aim is to deliver the right care (often online), at the right place (sometimes at home), and at the right time (ideally, before people are truly unwell).

DFD combines new and existing health information, data, solutions, and services into one integrated suite of tools. The platform may integrate with as many technical applications as possible, including from other vendors, and connects with digital health records, third-party data and any other relevant systems available in the ecosystem.

Interoperability is critical

Without interoperability, clinicians and patients frequently struggle to work together due to the problems of fragmented health information, the widespread use of siloed systems and a lack of standardization, leading to inefficiencies and a lack of care continuity.

Therefore the successful delivery of modern care increasingly relies on digital health tools and devices working together seamlessly, sharing information and allowing for efficient and effective patient care through interoperability.

With the emergence of large-scale DFD solutions, interoperability must be considered right up front in the solution design using a collaborative process rather than an optional bolt-on afterthought. Interoperability isn’t just a technical issue. It’s also about a seamless workflow that supports integrations with the rest of the health system. For instance, consider the example of Online Booking and Scheduling; patients need to be able to see all available appointments at a given clinic or service via data level integration with the completely separate systems of GPs, hospitals, and clinics.

Organizations should adopt a more patient-centered approach, where the needs and priorities of patients and carers are at the center of their care supported by needed interoperability efforts. This means involving clinicians with frontline experience in the design and implementation of systems that feature multiple applications that need to work together.

Nurses in particular play a vital role in the success of interoperability. They are the ones on the front line of patient care, and their input and feedback are crucial in the design and implementation of successful interoperable systems. By involving nurses in the process and providing them with proper training and support, healthcare providers can ensure that interoperability leads to improved patient care.

Many industries have embraced open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) as the way to provide easy access to data and capabilities. They open the way for collaboration between healthcare organizations, patients, even players from outside of traditional healthcare to develop innovative applications to serve any and every healthcare niche.

Done right, nurses can access a more complete picture of a patient’s health, allowing them to make more informed decisions and provide better care. A DFD also allows nurses and other clinicians to work more closely with their patients enabling more efficient, streamlined care. So long as nurses can easily access and share information between different systems.

But there is also a need for a clear governance framework for interoperability, including standards, data protection, and accountability. Data governance can help ensure data is shared securely and ethically and that there is appropriate accountability for any issues.

Getting the right healthcare data in the right place at the right time is hard – for people, carers and providers. When we improve the experience of people and those who care for them, we reshape the healthcare experience, creating materially better outcomes for all.

By Dr Chris Hobson, Chief Medical Officer, Orion Health