Digital Front Door: Build or Buy?

July 12, 2022 |
Debra Voss
 | Solutions Consultant, Patient Experience

The era of healthcare’s digital transformation has arrived. As consumers and patients expect convenience and demand connected and seamless interactions with their preferred providers, healthcare organizations must start to accelerate innovation and meet the challenge head-on.

A majority of enterprise health systems, community health systems, and children’s hospitals are plotting a future-focused digital course right now. According to a survey of 143 health system executives conducted by Chartis in November 2021, 73% of provider organizations are in the planning stages when it comes to developing strategies for personalized care.

Digital front door (DFD) solutions—highly integrated patient engagement platforms that offer a comprehensive digital health journey—are among the top innovations healthcare leaders seek today, with 69% of executives surveyed identifying DFD as a priority. Yet when it comes to implementing a DFD, many organizations wonder whether they should build one on their own or partner with a vendor.

This white paper explores the pivotal DFD build vs. buy question and offers guidance for health IT leaders looking to capture the moment.

 

Hurdles to a DIY DFD

While building a DFD from scratch may sound enticing, it comes with its own set of challenges. One of the biggest is staffing.

As the Great Resignation impacts employers nationwide, the extreme increases in workload due to the COVID-19 pandemic have led healthcare and IT professionals to leave their jobs in record numbers. In September 2021, Harvard Business Review reported that tech resignations rose by 4.5% compared to September 2020, while healthcare resignations rose by 3.6% year-over-year.

A lack of available future talent also looms large for health IT teams. According to a February 2022 report in The New York Times, the unemployment rate for tech workers was 1.7% vs. an unemployment rate of roughly 4% in the general economy. At the same time, salaries for tech workers in some cities rose by as much as 10%.

This health IT hiring crisis comes just as healthcare organization start to dig through a backlog of mission-critical projects delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. From EHR upgrades to population health and telehealth initiatives, many IT teams are already overworked and overwhelmed. Finding the bandwidth to add a complex DFD build is near impossible for most teams. So, too, is finding the specific app development expertise they might need in-house to make a DIY DFD happen.

 

The true costs of building your own DFD

When health IT teams look to build a DFD, their first step is investigating the costs. Software developer SPD Load used an estimate of $40/hour of software development time to calculate these rough estimates for an app build:

  • Simple app development cost: $40,000 – $60,000
  • Average app development cost: $60,000 – $150,000
  • Complex ap development cost: from $300,000

Yet these costs are on the low side, especially in the U.S., where app developers make between $120-150/hour, the highest hourly rate in the world.

Another factor to consider is the time it will take to build your own DFD. According to SPD load, it takes this long to complete the task:

  • Simple app development: 2 – 3 months
  • Average app development: 3 – 6 months
  • Complex app development: 9+ months

Considering that the ideal DFD solutions will connect all of your patient-facing technology through multiple integrations, DFDs clearly are complex apps. That means building your own could take as long — if not longer — than your buying process, and that’s if you have the expertise and the capacity in-house to manage a complicated build.

What’s even worse, some hospitals make considerable investments in building their own solutions only to find that they don’t have the bandwidth or budget to maintain their homegrown solutions. Ongoing updates will include security updates, new integrations, and new feature builds. In addition, both iOS and Android require regular upgrades of apps featured on the Apple Store and Google Play store, so weighing the cost and labor associated with ongoing maintenance is one of the most crucial factors health IT leaders must consider when weighing build vs. buy.

 

Overcoming ‘buying fatigue.’

One of the principal reasons health IT leaders consider building their own DFD solution is because they’re already suffering from buying fatigue.

Many have legacy solutions and tech stacks that include a multitude of vendors, and they’re currently struggling to optimize each of those individual vendor relationships. For health IT leaders in these organizations, adding even just one more vendor to the mix seems overwhelming.

The best way to overcome buying fatigue is to leverage all the existing technologies in which you’ve already invested. We find that most health systems already have lots of great digital tools to offer their patient consumers, so they don’t need another point solution. Instead, they need to connect them to create a satisfying and comprehensive digital patient experience.

By choosing the right DFD provider, enterprise health systems, community hospitals and children’s hospitals can leverage the best of their existing technologies and also reduce the number of individual vendors they need to use.

In addition, the right DFD partner will help hospitals build a long-term, robust partnership with their tech vendors. Ideally, a chosen vendor won’t just build and maintain a DFD solution for you. They’ll also give you access to a range of capabilities that you don’t currently have in-house. The right partner can help you:

  • Integrate your patient portal, health risk assessments, find-a-doctor tools, wayfinding solutions, web content and more into a single unified DFD.
  • Bring you insights from other clients that can be applied to your DFD build and ongoing maintenance.
  • Offer a rinse-and-repeat implementation process so you can go to market faster than you can by building a DFD yourself.
  • Explore other ways to help you improve the digital patient experience and drive engagement.

Checklist: 10 key questions to ask a DFD partner

How does a health IT leader know whether a DFD vendor is the right fit? This checklist provides a list of 10 key questions you can ask potential partners so you can find a vendor that will meet your current and future patient engagement needs:

  1. How many DFDs and mobile apps have you built?
  2. What experience do you have with different types of healthcare organizations (enterprise, community and children’s hospitals)?
  3. How quickly will we be able to go-to-market with our DFD?
  4. How will you integrate our current patient portal into our DFD?
  5. What built-in integrations do you have that we can use out-of-the box?
  6. How will you review, manage, and assess security with our DFD?
  7. What is your fee structure? Do you charge per integration?
  8. What kind of support will we receive on an ongoing basis after go-live?
  9. How does your platform support scalability? How easy will it be to add more integrations as we grow?
  10. What do current customers and third-party review sites say about working with you?

 

Partnering with DeliverHealth for your DFD

The DeliverHealth platform offers enterprise health systems, community health systems, and children’s hospitals a simple, comprehensive DFD. With more than 30 out-of-the-box integrations (and counting), healthcare organizations benefit from the most integrated patient experience platform in healthcare.

Our mobile app fully integrates with an EHR patient portal and other technologies, effectively connecting all six areas of the patient journey:

  • Pre-visit
  • On-the-way
  • In-the-visit
  • Financial
  • Continuing Care
  • Loyalty

Because our platform leverages application programming interfaces (APIs), we can easily integrate multiple technologies, allowing your DFD to grow as your organization grows. Our platform is also white-labeled. That means your consumer-facing mobile and web apps can be designed to align with your healthcare organization’s brand standards.

 

Experience the full value of engaging with a long-term DFD partner

The race for digital transformation is on, and a majority of health IT leaders today are embracing DFD solutions as a way to improve patient engagement while also driving growth and brand loyalty.

While it’s tempting to build your own DFD, doing so brings plenty of expected and unexpected costs. It also takes high levels of technical acumen well beyond most health IT teams’ current capabilities. And it threatens to swallow up internal staff bandwidth and budget after launch due to the numerous updates and maintenance required.

Instead, the optimal approach, in our view, is for healthcare organizations to partner with an experienced and capable solution provider who can help you make the most of their existing patient-facing solutions. This will help you accelerate your speed-to-market while also helping you more easily manage existing vendor relationships.

In addition, the right DFD provider will become a true long-term partner, giving you the ongoing support you need to keep up with iOS and Android updates, expand your DFD’s features, and enrich your brand presence as your digital health journey evolves and grows.

If you want to know more about DFD on the DeliverHealth platform, contact us today. Let’s talk!