MedStar Health launches new digital front door for patients powered by b.well Connected Health

When booking travel, paying bills or shopping online, consumers can typically access all the information they need in one place and get what they need with just a few clicks.

Seeing a doctor, on the other hand, often requires calling the office for an appointment, logging into multiple patient portals to find your health records, sitting in a crowded waiting room and filling out the same paperwork multiple times.

MedStar Health, one of the biggest health systems on the East Coast with hospitals in Maryland and Washington, D.C., launched a new digital platform for patients that aims to streamline processes, reduce wait times and act as a one-stop-shop for patients' needs.

The platform, available on both the health system’s website and as a smartphone app, lets patients schedule appointments with primary care, urgent care, or telehealth providers 24/7. They can also access their medical records through integration with Cerner's electronic health record (EHR), see test results, view physician ratings, register online to save time at check-in and manage their calendar.

Patients can also receive notifications about appointment scheduling and registration reminders, according to the health system. And, a new digital wallet feature allows patients to store copies of their vaccine card, insurance card, ID and other health-related documents in a single location that they can readily access when needed.

RELATED: From Amazon to New Balance, consumer brand execs bring 'outsider' perspective to healthcare

The new patient-facing tools are a part of MedStar Health's broader digital transformation strategy to enable patients to have seamless access to the health system's care teams, John Lock, chief digital transformation officer for MedStar Health, told Fierce Healthcare.

"We wanted to create a tool for our patients that didn’t exist before that helps them manage their health and wellness in as little time as possible at any hour of the day," he said. "This helps to connect them to the right care at the right time in the right location and the right care setting."

He noted that the platform is also open to people who have not been a MedStar Health patient.

MedStar Health, which operates about 300 locations, including 10 hospitals as well as ambulatory and urgent care centers, worked with digital health company b.well Connected Health, also based in Baltimore, to roll out the new digital platform.

b.well brings together patient data across providers, insurers, pharmacies, and a patient's own apps and devices to offer consumers one-stop, mobile access to all of their health information.

MedStar Health tapped b.well because of the company's "advanced technology in interoperability and consumer experience platforms" and the company's work to help healthcare providers offer a more consumer-like experience to their patients, Lock said.

Digital transformation has become something of a buzzword in healthcare but many health systems have struggled to develop a comprehensive strategy with thousands of digital solutions on the market. And, two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, many providers are overwhelmed by surging cases and other pandemic-related challenges.

Most health system leaders say taking a more consumer-oriented approach and building a better patient experience is a top priority, according to a survey of health system leaders last fall. Ninety-two percent of executives say they are hoping to achieve a better patient experience through “digital transformation,” the recent Deloitte survey found.

"Consumers have come to expect these services in other industries," Lock said. "People are going to see more and more applicability of digital tools that will really make the process better for them and accelerate the path to care and access to care."

RELATED: League gets $95M for 'digital front door' consumer-centric healthcare platform

But he acknowledged that applying digital tools to healthcare is a complex process. "I've said, booking an Uber is a lot different than talking about symptoms or complaints. There is a difficulty level here, dealing with human life, that makes this important and difficult work."

The digital platform, which launched about a month ago, also benefits pandemic-weary health system staff by reducing their workload, according to the health system.

So far, about half of the app users have used it off hours to schedule a provider appointment. The digital tools help to streamlined the patient intake process and eliminate the need for redundant paperwork, which can be frustrating and time-consuming, Lock said.

According to the health system, “over time, the app and consumer experience platform will be further developed to allow patients to integrate records with wearable devices, establish personalized alerts based on their medical status or conditions, and pay their medical bills online.”

The technology tools recently launched are one part of a larger strategy to evolve the patient experience, according to Lock. MedStar Health has a roadmap for bringing additional capabilities live in the near future.

RELATED: Fierce Healthcare's Fierce 15 of 2022: b.well Connected Health

The digital platform will soon have a section enabling patients to view health records from any medical provider all in one place. 

Over time, the MedStar Health app and platform will be further developed to allow patients to integrate records with wearable devices, establish personalized alerts based on their medical status or conditions and pay their medical bills online.

"The goal is to make the experience more personalized and seamless and meet patients where they are." Lock said. "If you want to text with your doctor, we'll come up with tools to make that happen. If you want to use the telephone, we'll make that easy."

As one example of making healthcare more consumer-centric, when MedStar Health patients enter their insurance information into the digital platform, they won't be asked for that information again, he said.

It might seem like a small change, but in the world of healthcare, that's a "game changer," he noted.

"We're not on a digital journey just for the sake of being digital," Lock said.