Photo of a healthcare professional working on a laptop computer with holographic images surrounding her

To Portal or Not to Portal: How to Get Patients Engaged

9 Jul 2015 by Christine Kern

Studies show more than 80% of doctors believe a patient portal helps with patient satisfaction, and 71% believe it helps with patient/physician communication. And patients are also clamoring to jump on the portal bandwagon. Two-thirds of patients say they would be more loyal to physicians who provide a portal through an Electronic Medical Record (EMR).

But as a recent study published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) asserted, “Patient portals provide patients with the tools to better manage and understand their health status. However, widespread adoption of patient portals face resistance from patients and providers for a number of reasons, and there is limited evidence evaluating the characteristics of patient portals that received positive remarks from patients and providers.”

The positive side of patient portals.

  • Empowers patients to become active in their health
  • Allows patients to report health readings directly to their provider
  • Provides a forum for patients to ask questions or seek advice from healthcare providers
  • Allows patients to print health records
  • Allows patients to check and update health records to guarantee accuracy
  • Provides a convenient means of scheduling appointments

The negative side of patient portals.

  • Absence of uniform set of standards for healthcare records
  • Don’t provide access to what patients want or need
  • Intimidating to older and less tech-savvy populations
  • Lack patient trust regarding accuracy and reliability
  • Security concerns around the privacy of protected personal information
  • Lack of data showing the positive impact of patient portals

University of Missouri Health Care CEO & COO Dr. Mitch Wasden believes the patient portal will become the means for health data integration as an aggregator of patient health information. “In the future, it’s about migrating it to be more of a mobile platform. … In healthcare based on your age, sex and medical condition, there are probably five or six things every year you should have done, but you’re just not tracking it,” Wasden explains. “We’re taking your age, se, and medical condition and pushing to the portal the things you need to have done this year and click here to schedule. Now we’re showing the patient the value of integrated medical care.”

As one physician explained, “The portal is a tool. A tool works or doesn’t work based on usability and how effectively it does the job. We shouldn’t be talking about the portal, we should be talking first about the job: making clinical information easily available in a usable format to the person for whom it matters most: the patient.”

But a new study from HIMSS Analytics  and sponsored by InterSystems, revealed that portals are not living up to patient engagement needs. “Most portals don’t really align well with the definition of patient engagement,” one leader said. “They are great for convenience, but they don’t actually help people manage chronic diseases, improve their health or give them resources they need to move toward healthier behaviors. Most of the tools out there just don’t deliver on that promise.”

Thus, leaders are now searching for next-generation portals to offer the functionality that will enable patients to become partners in their own care. In particular, in order to fully engage patients, healthcare providers want functionality such as e-visits or e-consultations (80%), interoperability across multiple providers (70%), health evaluation and coaching (70%) and televisits (50%).

One registered medical assistant, who actually works directly with patients to “sell” the portal to new and established patients, explains, “Almost every patient I talk to signs up on the spot when they hear from a real person about it. Being able to see test results is actually not the biggest draw for most patients; it’s the way it solves their problems. … The veracity of information in a patient EMR is reviewed each time s/he visits. Catching errors is a regular part of the job, and it seems to be working well so far. I think once patients use the portal a few times and find it saves time and effort, they’ll come to use it more.”