Patient Portals

As new forms of healthcare software emerge, patients gain more ways to take a more active role in their healthcare delivery. While healthcare organizations have recently focused on machine learning in healthcare, 52% of healthcare chief information officers report that the focus in 2021 was on patient engagement technologies. This information is crucial as recent studies suggest increased engagement leads to better clinical results. And one of the main tools through which clinicians can increase engagement is patient portals.

What is a Patient Portal?

In the simplest terms, we can define this technology as online tools, such as a website, that gives patients quick, instant, and secure access to their health information. There are numerous perks that patients can take advantage of – from checking on their recent doctor visits to medications, immunizations, and lab results. Effectively, with more proactive patients, healthcare delivery is raised, resulting in better clinical functioning and quality of care.

Not all patient portals in healthcare are the same. More advanced portals also allow the patients to message their doctors, request prescription refills, make payments, schedule appointments, etc. The discrepancy in the quality and capabilities of a portal usually depends on the vendor or the medical institution itself.

Since the ONC’s Cures Act Final Rule, portals have been mandatory for clinicians, doctors, hospitals, and health IT developers. An online patient portal support patients in multiple ways:

  • It gives patients ease and access to their protected health information.
  • It protects patient privacy and increases security.
  • It promotes the ability to shop for care while allowing patients to manage their costs.

Much of the perks stem from meaningful use, which outlines providers’ and hospitals’ objectives to qualify for incentive payments through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services EHR Incentive Programs. The medical institutions must demonstrate the application and adoption of health portal technology.

How Do Patient Portals Work?

Portals are integrated within an organization’s electronic health record. Patients gain unique usernames and passwords through which they access their profiles. They can use any of the services mentioned above: pending on the complexity of the portal itself, patients can either communicate with their physician or check on their health status related to prescriptions, doctor visits, etc.

Patients can customize their patient health portal. Depending on their needs and conditions, users can select what services they wish to utilize, check on the available options, and set alerts and notifications to stay up to date with the rapidly evolving healthcare industry.

Benefits of Patient Portals

We can differentiate between the different types of benefits this technology offers based on who stands to benefit from it. As per the ONC, three groups of people who gain from said implementation are doctors, patients, and health IT developers. We’ve already said what the patients stand to gain, but now let’s look at how a healthcare patient portal benefits doctors and developers.

For doctors:

  • Patient data is easy to access: with the patients’ ability to access and learn about their health conditions independently; doctors have more time on their hands to focus on the quality of care they deliver.
  • Increased workflow efficiency: as the communication is more manageable, you and your staff can focus on other tasks, improving office efficiency.
  • Less medical errors: since a portal for patients holds all of the necessary health information; there is no context in which the relay of information causes confusion. Misinterpreting patient information on either the administrative or patient side becomes borderline impossible.
  • Transparency and safety: both patients and clinicians are protected. Since mandates are in place that dictate how to store and share information, there is an element of increased security and transparency, protecting both patient information and a physician’s practice from potential breaches.

For IT Developers:
ONC has established how information is stored and shared. Patient portals are developed according to standards that follow API Conditions of Certification. Certified health IT developers can consequently focus on the apps that help patients without worrying too much about the infrastructure or frameworks related to how their app functions – it has all been established for them.

Patient Portal Access

Even though the benefits of this technology are hard to ignore, it is important to note that not everyone is comfortable using it. Patients are reluctant for numerous reasons, ranging from distrusting technology and privacy concerns to merely preferring to have direct and in-person conversations with their care provider.

That is why providers must raise awareness of telemedicine solutions and their benefits. As per ONC’s Health Information National Trends Survey, a nationally representative body was surveyed from January to April 2020. Below we have some of the peculiar findings:

  • Patients were hesitant to use patient portals in healthcare for reasons that have remained consistent since 2017: they prefer to speak to a physician directly, or there is a perceived lack of need to utilize these services.
  • One-quarter of respondents stated that they have privacy concerns.
  • About 20% of individuals reported that they are uncomfortable with computers.
  • About 25% reported not using portals as they had difficulties logging in.

The lack of use is also more prevalent among racial and ethnic minorities. Previous studies have concluded that Black, Hispanic, and Asian users had significantly lower online patient portals usage than white patients, even after adjusting to internet and technology accessibility. This is indicative of racial and ethnic disparities within the healthcare industry.

Implementation Challenges

There are a couple of challenges when it comes to implementing this technology. For starters, there is still distrust related to technology in healthcare. Secondly, perhaps more prevalently, people unburdened by chronic conditions feel they do not need patient portals.
Further, research suggests that patients’ views on whether there will use portals hinge on their care provider’s views. Consequently, the adoption of portals is thwarted by physicians’ beliefs that adopting said technology will increase their workload.

Even though portals are now mandatory, many practices still failed to implement them. As a result, complete and seamless connectivity within the healthcare system is lacking. But, as research suggests, patient health portals are here to stay, and it is only a matter of time before we have a fully interoperable healthcare system.