As we start the fourth quarter, we enter the final 3-month reporting period for Meaningful Use (MU) Stage 2 in 2014. Many healthcare organizations will be working feverishly this quarter to ensure that their eligible providers (and supporting staff) are performing all of the necessary tasks in order to successfully attest to MU Stage 2 in 2014. Stage 2 has three core objectives that require patients to interact with their health information and communicate with their provider electronically. All three of these objectives can be satisfied by the use of a patient portal.
Recently, Galen Healthcare forged a partnership with MedfusionTM to help expand their portfolio of EHR’s that integrate with the MedfusionTM Patient Portal. This project got me thinking about some of the bigger picture issues with patient portals.
Organizational Benefits. By now, most healthcare organizations have selected a patient portal allowing them to achieve the MU objectives. While MU was likely the driver for many providers to implement patient portals in their organization, there are many other reasons to integrate a patient portal with the organization’s EHR solution. Secure communications between providers and patients, appointment requests, prescription renewal requests, and automated delivery of visit summaries are a few examples of office workflows that can be made more efficient when using a patient portal, freeing up time for office staff. What are the next wave of patient portal features that will help optimize the healthcare organization? Will e-visits gain traction amongst providers, patients, and payers? Is there a place in the patient portal for e-visits and will they benefit the healthcare organization?
Patient Adoption. Not only does the patient portal provide many benefits for the healthcare organization and its staff, but patients also benefit from the features and functionalities added by the portal. Patient portals provide patients with innovative functionalities that are not only new and exciting (smart phone apps, cloud services, etc.), but also provide services that yield streamlined and improved healthcare outcomes. And while a patient portal can reduce the amount of effort required of the patient to get the needed healthcare, and even result in healthier patient care, portal adoption is still a big struggle. How can adoption be increased? Most of the burden falls on the organization to get the message out to their patients to join in many different ways, but can patient portal vendors create a user-interface that is simple to use while also including trendy and exciting features (possibly including some element of gamification) to attract younger generations, enhance the patient experience, and motivate individuals to live healthier lives?
EHR-Tethered Patient Portals. Does the tight relationship between EHR vendors and patient portals reduce the adoption of patient portals by patients? Each vendor has their own patient portal solution, creating the need for patients to possibly maintain multiple portal accounts. As much as providers don’t want to be required to login to multiple applications to see a patient’s full clinical record, a patient doesn’t want to have to login to multiple portals in order to see their full health record. Much like HIE was the next step for getting data out of EHR silos, what is next for providing patients with a way to combine their data across multiple portal “silos?” Is the best solution to tether patient portals to HIE’s, which already aggregate data across multiple providers in a community, rather than EHR’s? There are definitely some design costs associated with this type of solution, but is it more sustainable and desirable in the long-term?
Patient portals have been developed and deployed for many years, but the adoption still seems relatively low. Meaningful Use Stage 2 is trying to increase their usage, but there need to be more benefits (for both the healthcare organization and the patient) in order to sustain and augment their utilization.
Feel free to provide your thoughts and comments, including your own experiences, on patient portals below. What current features are most useful? What features are still needed? What is the future of patient portals?