Many healthcare executives talk about creating a “digital front door” to healthcare using mobile apps and other tech tools.
But for most consumers, using provider mobile apps can be a clunky experience that requires logging into one app for the patient portal and navigating to another one to schedule an appointment.
Digital health is not a one-and-done project. As tech evolves, many health systems aim to keep pace with an eye toward becoming more consumer-centric.
“During the COVID pandemic we saw the consumer digital experience evolve within all parts of consumer’s lives— from ordering food at restaurants and grocery stores to communicating with their mobile phones with their veterinarians and dry cleaners—healthcare needs to at least be at parity with other consumer services,” Dan Dodson, system director, digital health and innovation at UNC Health, said in an interview.
“At UNC Health we continuously seek out ways to exceed our patients’ expectations,” Dodson said.
The not-for-profit health system worked with two digital health startups to combine different services under a common digital experience. “This allows our patients to seek care, communicate with their healthcare team and learn about ways to stay healthy all from their mobile device,” Dodson said.
UNC Health launched its consumer-facing mobile app with Gozio nearly three years ago to deliver wayfinding and bring other digital elements under a single patient-facing interface.
The health system teamed up again with Gozio Health and Well Health to build on that technology and roll out new features on its mobile app. UNC Health is integrating Gozio-powered wayfinding with the Well Health patient communications platform that brings together wayfinding, messaging and quick access to MyChart. It also enables consumers to schedule appointments and find urgent care wait times through a single interface.
When a patient receives a text appointment reminder, it now includes a link to the UNC Health mobile app. As a result, the health system saw a 443% increase in daily mobile app downloads, according to Dodson.
The new app features include an “immediate care near you” map showing urgent care and emergency departments closest to the user’s location, along with urgent care wait times and smarter links for appointment reminders that enables patients to click a smartlink in a text to download the UNC Health app.
Patients can also now save the appointment to their mobile phone calendar with an embedded link. When clicked, the link opens the app and automatically provides wayfinding from home to parking to the point of care.
UNC Health says it’s the first health system to offer this smartlink option to download their mobile app via the Well Health platform.
Well Health’s technology enables conversations between patients and healthcare organizations through secure, multilingual messaging in the patient’s preferred communications channel: texting, email, telephone and webchat. Gozio Health provides a patient-facing hospital navigation app.
By working with two health tech vendors, the companies maximized the value of the other, Dodson said: “The experience felt very complimentary.”
Building more consumer-centric digital tools often requires collaborating with multiple vendors.
“The best digital solutions in healthcare are not stand-alone solutions. They stem from collaboration between vendors that are the best at what they do individually,” Joshua Titus, CEO of Gozio said in an interview. Working together with Well Health to customize UNC Health’s digital platform will help the health system meet its strategic goals for its digital solution “over the long term,” Titus said.
Dodson noted that the vast majority of the more than 350,000 health-related apps get downloaded fewer than 5,000 times.
Since the go-live of its UNC Health app, the health system has realized more than 1.6 million sessions and a 71% reuse rate, which means that most users have tapped into the UNC Health mobile app more than one time.
Nearly 25% of UNC Health patients have used the mobile app over 10 times, according to Dodson.
“Providing our patients an easy-to-use mobile app that gives them all the features they want in a single experience brings them back as we continuously look for ways to expand our services,” he said.
Digital health initiatives need to focus beyond just the initial download and look at ways to create value for patients that bring them back to using the app whenever they need health care support, Dodson noted.
In an increasingly competitive healthcare market, there is an urgent need for health systems and providers to design for a mobile-first generation with Millennial and Gen Z patients in mind.
“Patients want a seamless healthcare experience. They don’t want to jump through hoops by logging into different portals or downloading multiple apps to get the healthcare information they need. By integrating digital patient communications into the wayfinding experience—or any other digital health experience for that matter—providers can amplify the value of their existing tech and deliver the integrated, seamless experience their patients deserve,” Guillaume de Zwirek, CEO and founder of Well Health, said in an interview.
The urgency to create positive digital experiences for patients and families in healthcare too often results in a piecemeal strategy that leads to clunky consumer experiences and lackluster return on investment, according to Titus.
Gozio began working with UNC Health three years ago with an initial focus on digital wayfinding services from the patient’s home to the point of care along with features like the ability to view urgent care wait times and scheduling appointments online.
“Today, the number one goal of our work with UNC Health is to build an engaged population with access to the digital services that matter most to consumers and provide a digital ‘hand-holding experience’ at each point in the patient journey,” Titus said.
Well Health also has worked with UNC Health over the past three years to manage patient communications. Well Health’s work has expanded into population health outreach, recalls, referrals and implementing bi-directional communication across the entire health system, de Zwirek said.
“The digital front door is multi-dimensional and a continuum. Today, there is no easy front door—is it an app? Is it scheduling? It’s complex. For us, it’s all about bringing the disparate parts of a provider’s tech stack together to create one simple, concierge-like communications experience for patients,” de Zwirek noted.
Healthcare has become a competitive environment with traditional brick-and-mortar providers competing with new entrants like One Medical, virtual-first providers and retailers like Walmart opening clinics. Healthcare leaders view the ability to deliver tightly integrated digital experiences as a way to differentiate and grow market share, Titus said.
Sixty percent of consumers are comfortable using their mobile devices to access healthcare services and share their data, according to an Accenture report.
With UNC Health’s mobile app, the most popular features are quick access to the My UNC Chart, which is the Epic consumer portal, maps and locations and appointment scheduling, Dodson said.
“Since we first launched our app in 2019 we have continued to grow—both our footprint as a health system and our tech stack. But it’s not just about new tools and tech—it’s about bringing it all together to create a seamless UNC Health experience for our patients within our entire digital health ecosystem,” he said.
UNC Health continues to look for ways to expand features and mobile services, he noted, including plans to roll out an employee version of the mobile app.