To Enhance Patient Outcomes, Healthcare Providers Need to Invest in Digital Experiences

The pivot to digital health delivery has been fast for healthcare providers—faster than most organizations predicted. And while this paradigm shift presents undeniable challenges, it also unlocks massive advantages, including new ways to understand, unify, and improve patient care and access. These innovations have begun to show providers a more holistic view of their patients than ever before—and they empower patients with information and guidance to make personal health decisions.

Yet, to keep up with both the regulatory environment and the pandemic, many healthcare organizations prioritized speed and scale over security, without connecting their patient-facing applications back to a central user store or deploying multi-factor authentication (MFA). That reaction has opened up potential user experience and security pitfalls. 

Consolidating, modernizing, and securing information systems is imperative, and the healthcare industry is moving decisively:

  • Overall spending in the US healthcare market is set to total a whopping $5.7T by 2026.
  • Corporate funding for digital health grew to a record $21.6B globally in 2020—an increase of 103% over 2019—as companies implement the solutions necessary to support an ever-expanding application and API ecosystem.
  • Investment in IT and digital transformation initiatives reached $128B for healthcare providers part way through 2021, and with a CAGR of 8.4%, it could hit $177B in 2025.

Now is the moment for healthcare organizations to start building the agility and resilience they’ll need to meet the rising expectations of their patients, connect their service offerings to best-of-breed partner applications, and be equipped for the current, and any future, healthcare crisis.

But in order to make the most of this moment, they need to prioritize patient-centric experiences that effectively and authentically put people first. They need to open the digital front door (DFD).

Understanding the patient experience

So what exactly do today’s patients expect from their healthcare providers? For starters, they want a seamless experience, and 73% say this is a top factor when deciding on a provider. On top of that, they want control and ownership over their data, along with the ability to search for doctors, access health records, and pay bills digitally. And yet, 62% report that they’re unable to accomplish their healthcare objectives online.

It’s therefore no surprise that 81% report dissatisfaction with their current healthcare experience, and this dissatisfaction begins the second they have to log into the patient portal. The applications they need to access don’t share information, increasing duplicative demographic data entry. Essentially, they have to remember too many usernames and passwords, costing them time and causing frustration.

Healthcare providers struggle to solve this issue because when forced to choose between patient experience versus cybersecurity, data privacy, and regulatory compliance, those last three concerns win—every time. This has severely limited the ability of healthcare organizations to personalize services for patients or maintain a single profile for each user across all services.

Part of the problem is that healthcare providers often rely on an existing patient portal identity provider (IdP) or legacy identity solution to connect to partner applications. However, these IdPs weren’t built to serve as robust identity platforms, and they have some critical shortcomings:

  • They lack the flexibility to quickly integrate with partner apps.
  • Their limited branding capabilities prevent a consistent patient experience.
  • Security functionality, such as MFA, is limited.
  • They aren’t easily integrated into mobile apps.
  • They have unreliable service availability, due to unplanned downtime or outages.
  • These IdPs may only be available to existing patients, reducing the providers’ ability to engage with prospective patients and family members.

How did we get here? Patient access regulations like Meaningful Use brought about the patient portal. Later regulations, like Promoting Interoperability, opened the door for the app economy, built atop the interoperable SMART on FHIR API standard. And the latest 21st Century Cures Act doubles down on the expansion of patient access. Healthcare providers need to keep pace with these increasingly digital, patient-centric requirements, especially as they rely more on partner applications to meet patients where they are.

The stakes are high. Over $1.5T in annual healthcare revenue is expected to shift ownership within the healthcare industry by 2025, and organizations with superior customer experiences are expected to win this market.

Opening the DFD—and the patient portal

If patients want streamlined experiences and consolidated information, then healthcare organizations should enable a DFD—a virtual first point of contact. This kind of portal empowers users to collect information and make informed choices before engaging with healthcare professionals, finding the right services, and accessing them on-demand.

In one survey seeking to gauge patient engagement satisfaction, 58% of respondents said the most impactful technology in their user experience was that of the patient portal. In fact, it was the consolidated portal experience—one where one person has a single username and password which, quickly and effortlessly, connects them to their numerous apps—that 38% of respondents preferred. Just one example of how it’s a great investment for unlocking that DFD. Some organizations are already using it to redefine the patient journey, including Inception Health and Dignity Health. A robust identity solution, coupled with patient life cycle integrations into their respective patient portal providers, Epic and Cerner, helped accelerate their DFD initiatives.

Best-of-breed partners are playing an increasingly key role in building the modern patient experience too, targeting specific use cases and executing them exceptionally well. For example, virtual visits meet patients where they are, with 46% of patients opting for telehealth because of the sense of safety it provides; meanwhile, online bill payments, which are facilitated by frictionless login experiences, help increase revenue capture through self-service options. When these apps are seamlessly connected through the DFD, patients are put into the driver’s seat of managing their health journey, from beginning to end.

Now more than ever, healthcare providers need to have a flexible platform built on open standards that can easily connect to the application ecosystems people depend on. But security and compliance will always be paramount.

Keeping the front door, and patient data, secure

Healthcare systems hold an ever-increasing share of the world’s data—currently, 30%, but it may increase to 36% by 2025. When organizations enable new digital experiences, they expand the surface of attack. Those massive volumes of data are valuable to bad actors: 

  • The average cost of a healthcare data breach is the highest of any industry: $9.23 million.
  • A single healthcare data record can be worth as much as $250 on the black market.
  • It takes 287 days on average to identify and contain a breach—all while associated costs pile up.

These factors contribute to an expected $16B cybersecurity market for healthcare by 2025.

When healthcare providers seek to enhance customer journeys, they must also ensure compliance with domestic and international compliance requirements such as HIPAA and GDPR, along with other industry protocols. And it never stops—new regulatory requirements from the 21st Century Cures Act mandate that patients can access care through the apps of their choosing.

It all seems complicated—but with a powerful identity solution laying the foundation, a better user experience is perfectly compatible with improved privacy and security.

The power of patient identity

How does identity solve problems for both security providers and their patients? Simply put, secure authentication processes, combined with robust authorization and user management policies, frame the DFD.

Customers want a single point of access to the platforms, offerings, and resources that shape their healthcare journey. With a solution such as single sign-on, one strong set of credentials lets them log into the services they need, whenever and wherever they need them, for seamless, omnichannel interactions. Progressive profiling features allow them to input their information with the least amount of friction, at their own pace, so that onboarding never feels intrusive or intimidating.

For providers, identity is the best way to secure personal health information (PHI) and protect patient data. Risk-based authentication with built-in context-awareness helps ensure that the user, device, network, and location of every access request is recognized so that patients have a frictionless experience on the front end, while security teams enjoy full visibility on the backend.

Enabling this level of security and simplicity directly benefits the bottom line as well, it 

  • Reduces integration costs and the number of help desk calls.
  • Frees IT teams to work on the projects that drive real value.
  • Helps healthcare providers build a relationship of loyalty and trust with their communities.

Okta is a vendor-neutral, HIPAA-compliant identity solution, designed to help healthcare organizations secure data and PHI, integrate seamlessly with the partner ecosystem, and enable the DFD experiences that make patients feel seen, heard, and valued. For more information, check out our page of Okta Identity solutions for healthcare providers and payers.