Building Connected Healthcare Experiences One Step at a Time

July 16, 2020

// By Jim Samuel //

What has changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic — and what hospitals and health systems should know about moving from a basic online presence to a fully open digital front door.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced hospitals and health systems to quickly adopt new technology that has changed how Americans receive healthcare. One change has been a dramatic increase in the adoption of telehealth, says Dave Wieneke, healthcare innovation leader at PK, an international experience engineering firm.

One large telehealth provider, Wieneke says, talked of experiencing a 3,000 percent growth in the use of telehealth over a 60-day period. “I also talked to a hospital executive who described their system last year as having 1,900 telehealth visits,” he says. “This month (May 2020), they’ve had 1,900 visits. They are making plans for next year to do 1,900 visits each week.”

Dave Wieneke, healthcare innovation leader at PK

Dave Wieneke, healthcare innovation leader, PK

Wieneke says that as the pandemic progressed, he began looking at hospital and health systems’ websites to see how they were changing as a result of the crisis.

“We are living in an age in which video is now a crucial point of care,” he says, adding that the more common the use of video becomes, the more it will affect other parts of a health system’s digital presence.

“As we think about doctor-finding, how long will still photos and a few historic or demographic facts really measure up on profiles as a way of picking a doctor?” he asks, suggesting that physician videos could soon become a common part of online physician profiles.

“The other large change we saw was the introduction of live chat with an AI (artificial intelligence) interface,” Wieneke says. UCLA Health, he continues, added chat capabilities to its website in two weeks and it is now supporting more than 30,000 interactions per day.

Still More to Be Done

While patients and providers have been quick to adopt telemedicine and AI in response to the coronavirus pandemic, they have not been as quick with other healthcare technology, Wieneke says.

“According to some recent Forrester data,” Wieneke explains, “despite colossal investment and effort, only half of online adults have logged in to healthcare websites or apps. Of that half, only half of them have done so in the last year. That’s not a very high rate of return.” Less than 20 percent of users have scheduled appointments online.

What is needed, Wieneke says, is for health systems to provide consumers with connected experiences. “The goal of any connected experience is to remove functional, social, and emotional barriers to engagement,” he explains.

Health systems typically place different parts of the patient journey in silos, and that can make it difficult for consumers to find the information and services they need. Those silos are:

  • Websites for doctor finders, location information, service lines, and health information.
  • Portals for online scheduling, bill payment, messaging, and other applications.
  • Communications channels, including email, chat, call centers, social media, and microsites.
  • Other engagement vehicles, such as physician referrals and magazines.
Derek Phillips, director of content strategy at PK

Derek Phillips, director of content strategy, PK

“We know consumers want useful, consolidated interfaces,” Wieneke says, citing the example of Intuit’s Mint financial management service, which brings a user’s financial data from several sources into a single interface.

“This really is a challenge to stop thinking about creating just web pages or just emails,” Wieneke says. Health systems instead need to connect resources, so they provide better experiences.

The siloed approach can also make it harder for hospital marketing teams, says Derek Phillips, director of content strategy at PK. “It’s a lot to keep track of all these various challenges and all these points of contact when they are siloed like this.”

The Digital Front Door

There are three ways that hospitals and health systems can provide consumers with a better digital experience, Wieneke explains. The most comprehensive approach is the digital front door. Because they pull a health system’s entire ecosystem into a single location, digital front doors allow health systems to communicate with patients about whatever an individual patient is interested in at that time.

“Once you start to put these capabilities together, they become more than the sum of their parts.”

Dave Wieneke

healthcare innovation leader, PK

“Interoperability is how these kinds of connected experiences can be better orchestrated,” Wieneke says. Among the capabilities that can be included in a digital front door are:

  • Online scheduling
  • Telemedicine
  • Chat
  • Wellness tools
  • Symptom checkers
  • Cost estimates
  • Bill pay and payment planning
  • Health records

“Once you start to put these capabilities together, they become more than the sum of their parts,” Wieneke says.

Engagement Hubs

While digital front doors work to bring all the information that any patient might need into one place, an engagement hub can connect a specific group of patients with information tailored to their needs.

Phillips described how a medical devices company he works with uses an engagement hub to reach both surgeons and surgical patients. Though the company does not sell directly to consumers, it “wanted to be a resource to those patients and, more importantly, be a resource to the surgeons who are working with these patients,” Phillips says.

Their goal, Phillips explains, was to help physicians set realistic expectations by providing reliable information for patients about to undergo surgery. To do that, the company developed a content hub that fed information to social media. The hub includes content for each stage of the patient journey, including the post-surgery stage to help patients maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“They created a comprehensive content strategy and editorial approach,” says Phillips. “They brought in an editor-in-chief who manages content. They bring in surgeons and others who contribute articles.”

Interaction points are a third alternative and differ from engagement hubs because they focus on moving a particular audience member from step A to step B, Wieneke says. Interaction points are conversion oriented and are not for actions that patients will do repeatedly.

“Choosing a doctor is one example,” he says. “It’s not something you come back and do again.” Other examples of interaction points are registering for a portal, signing up for a newsletter, or wayfinding to care.

Where Hospitals and Health Systems Should Start

No matter how you choose to do it, building a connected healthcare experience requires a deep investment in content, Phillips says.

“We always start with the four tenets that make up useful and valuable content,” he says. Those tenets are:

  • Unique
  • Exclusive
  • Creative
  • Engaging

“If we think about content as a business investment, we have to choose where we make that investment,” explains Phillips. Part of making that choice is understanding consumers’ mindset when they are looking for information.

“Why are they looking for that information?” Phillips asks. “What are the roadblocks people are likely to encounter during their journey? What is the best way to deliver this information?”

One key to creating exclusive content is to know the people who work at the organization, Phillips said.

“If we think about content as a business investment, we have to choose where we make that investment.”

Derek Phillips

director of content strategy, PK

“We all know people in our organizations who know all the stories,” he continues. “Talk to charge nurses and call centers. Ask them what people are asking about.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a number of changes in how healthcare organizations interact with consumers and patients, Wieneke says, adding that healthcare organizations, which traditionally have been slow to adopt new technology, quickly added telemedicine because it was necessary to continue treating patients.

“If nothing else comes out of COVID-19, I hope that it starts to end the trope that healthcare’s digital vision is somehow backward or slow,” Wieneke says. “There’s plenty we can learn from others, but what other industry is shifting so fast?”

Wieneke and Phillips shared their perspectives in a recent eHST webinar, “Building Connected Healthcare Experiences,” presented by PK, an international experience engineering firm.

Jim Samuel is a writer with extensive experience in the healthcare industry. He is based in Philadelphia and has worked for some of the nation’s largest healthcare corporations as well as regional health systems. Email him at