A growing number of “digital front door” tools for hospitals and health systems has created new opportunities to connect with patients, but may also result in a fragmented experience.
A hospital’s digital front door can include patient portals, online self-scheduling, chatbots and other digital technologies used to engage patients outside of the facility’s walls. But while helpful, those one-off solutions can be confusing for patients if they’re frequently sent to new websites or asked to download new apps from various companies to access healthcare, experts said during the Transformation Summit.
“I don’t want (patients) to come in and there’s one experience for check-in, one experience for scheduling, one experience while they’re at the virtual visit,” said Suja Chandrasekaran, senior executive vice president and chief information and digital officer at Chicago-based CommonSpirit, during a panel discussion on digital engagement.
Patients should have one consistent experience they can access from a single platform, she said, with data that flows from each point to the next, so they’re not constantly filling out the same forms.
Developing that cohesive view for patients requires coordinating across the health system.
That can be particularly challenging for large organizations with multiple service lines, across multiple hospitals, across multiple regions.
“If each one of these (groups) goes out and says, ‘Here’s our digital strategy for the consumer,’ the consumer ultimately doesn’t win—they end up with a bunch of different experiences,” said Jeff Johnson, vice president of innovation and digital business at Phoenix-based Banner Health. “How do we bring every single one of these possible touch points together?”
Johnson said he hopes the new data-sharing regulations from HHS, which aim to spur adoption of standard application programming interfaces in healthcare, will encourage digital health startups to make it easier to link up to one another and “really integrate into our overall Banner customer experience.”
A push toward wanting a single experience that encompasses multiple capabilities is likely one of the factors underpinning continued mergers in digital health, as startups that were founded to solve single problems consolidate to create broader platforms.
Fifty-seven mergers or acquisitions of digital health companies were announced in 2021’s first quarter, according to data compiled by Rock Health, an early-stage digital health venture fund that also compiles research on the sector.
One of the mergers involves Doctor On Demand, a telehealth company, merging with Grand Rounds, a company focused on navigation for specialty healthcare.
“The industry has been very saturated with point solutions, but we’re starting to see a lot of companies merge,” said Missy Krasner, venture chair at healthcare innovation firm Redesign Health, during a panel discussion on digital health startups.
There were 142 digital health M&A transactions in total last year, notably including a merger between Teladoc Health and Livongo, which focuses on chronic condition management.
Already in 2021’s second quarter, employee benefits company Accolade shared plans to buy virtual primary-care startup PlushCare.
In fact, while special purpose acquisition companies—or SPACs—have garnered attention in the past year thanks to companies like 23andMe and SOC Telemed going public through them, mergers and acquisitions remain the most common exit strategy for digital health startups, according to Bill Evans, CEO and managing director at Rock Health.
Merging with another digital health startup has proven an especially popular way to exit.
“For the last several years running, including so far this year, mergers between digital health companies remains the largest form of M&A,” Evans said. “We’re seeing consolidation.”
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