Patient portals – those secure online websites which give patients 24/7 access to personal health information – are not gaining as much priority as they deserve, since EHR companies tend to be tight on R&D resources. As a matter of fact, few companies have effectively invested towards the cause of patient portals. As a result, these companies have not yet been able to meet their full potential in terms of user needs, i.e. patient portal needs. This scenario has left many organizations with less-than-acceptable solutions that are incapable of adding value to the organization in the long term.

Patient Portals

Understanding the Goals of Patient Portals

A patient portal’s aim should be to improve quality of care by engaging patients as active participants in their care. Its functions may definitely vary – from allowing patients to view laboratory test results to immunizations, medications and patients sending secure messages to their physician. However, the foremost step of making a patient portal user-friendly is to allow the users to navigate it effortlessly.

As an example, let’s consider a scenario where the patient’s task is to view his test reports. When the patient interacts with their test result, they need to know –

  1. the purpose of the test,
  2. the interpretation of the result,
  3. and the course of action to take up next.

Refining interactions such as these to be smooth-sailing go a long way in enhancing the patient-centered care.

Designing Patient Portals

Examining the Areas of Improvement for Patient Portals

When it comes to the EHR market, there are few providers with the requisite software expertise to undertake the complex job of switching EHR vendors. One cannot avoid the fact that system has to fulfill Meaningful Use/MACRA requirements. While many fulfill these requirements about their interface, these are not properly tested. As a result, the core functionality is missing most of the times. When the patients actually start using the portal, a lot of complaints tend to spring up. These commonly include –

  • Main features that lack in functionality
  • The designed platform is not user-friendly
  • Platforms work only on selected browsers
  • The process of registration is difficult for the patient and needs staff intervention
  • Lack of pertinent data from the EHR

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In recent times, most up-and-coming third party patient portal vendors are getting acquired by major EHR vendors, in order to replace the underperforming portals. Vendors who have invested in research and development will ultimately experience the biggest success in replacement of the portal market. Epic, Greenway health, eClinicalWorks and athenahealth have succeeded in the EHR market and have established themselves as dominant industry players. Similar journeys undertaken by other companies are most likely to see the same results. The only approach should be looking after Meaningful Use/MACRA and towards technologies that provide more innovative patient engagement and care management solutions.

Despite the long-proven benefits and advantages of patient portals, their popularity still seems to be limited in the US. Also, research shows that although a provider can make these portals available for use, there isn’t any clear evidence proving that they help improve the patients’ health.

Even the most elementary portals allow patients to access information like doctor visits, medication summaries and lab results. Few of those which are advanced allow the patient to refill prescriptions, schedule non-urgent appointments and exchange secure messaging with their providers. Fortunately, EHR tools like DrChrono can provide most of this functionality and much more, so it’s possible to find an EHR vendor that suits all of a practice’s needs.

Instead of making the patient portals aesthetically appealing, the stakeholders should focus on enhancing the flow of information and providing patients with tools to take part in their healthcare routines, which will be far more impactful in the long run.