- Patient portals are growing in number and popularity as healthcare organizations and providers seek to contend for consumers in a new value-based healthcare economy or meaningful use requirements centered on patient engagement and health data integration.
While patient access to health information enjoys widespread support among healthcare professionals, patients, industry stakeholders, the form it should take remains a point of division among these same groups of individuals.
In an article published last week on EHRIntelligence.com — “How Innovative EHR Use Supports Care Quality Improvements” —University of Missouri Health Care CEO & COO Mitch Wasden, EdD, voiced his belief that the patient portal would become the means for health data integration as an aggregator of patient health information.
The following question was then put to readers: Will patient portals solve the healthcare industry’s integration problem?
For some readers, the answer to that question is an obvious yes:
The patient portal is a good proactive approach in getting patients involved in their own healthcare and EHR. Social media, apps, and search engines have already given people that freedom. I feel as the EHR becomes more seamless and interoperable, patient interaction will need to be established in conjunction with the utilization of the social aspect of healthcare.
—Biomedical Engineering Technologist
Integration is all about healthcare standards; patients cannot understand computer language. So, the patient portal is the great approach where the patient is directly involved with their healthcare information.
I believe patient portal will open up a new paradigm shift in healthcare, with patient engagement we will bring along more information about the patient that are not captured during interactions with the clinicians. This should provide deeper knowledge about the patient. Patient portal will certainly have its challenges, one of them being building the credibility with the patients to share their information.
—Business Intelligence, Data Warehousing Specialist
However, others contend that patient portals have a ways to go before they are able to deliver on the potential identified by Wasden. One criticism is the proliferation of patient portals and the resulting fragmentation of patient health data:
The part I struggle with is the fact that based on the nature of the healthcare system in a patient’s region, they could have several portals to contend with to really get all of their healthcare information. Maybe in the setting the author was discussing, this is not an issue, but I know in certain markets this can be an issue … Unless the industry and vendors can come up with a solution such as allowing the patient to choose the portal they want and then asking vendors and healthcare providers to send healthcare data to any portal they choose, I am not sure that patient portals are quite ready to be an ultimate solution.
—Clinical Informatics Director
These sentiments were echoed by another reader saw two areas that must be addressed in order for patient portals to realize their purported potential:
Patient portals will NOT solve the issue of healthcare integration. Patient portals have been available for more than 10 years and, unfortunately, the lack of standardization and of standard healthcare document elements have not contributed to the integration of healthcare portals. It is a wonderful idea, really, but until there are a set of STANDARDS for healthcare records required to create and maintain an electronic record, there is no hope of a truly electronic patient healthcare portal.
Individuals are still too resistant to the idea of standardization. First, they are afraid of invasion of privacy. Secondly, they are afraid their own personal healthcare records will actually end up being used against them. Until this issue is addressed, there is truly no hope to a standardized electronic healthcare records for all individuals.
Another commenter drew attention to the limited computer literacy of many patients and the ability of patients to make changes to the information they are able to access:
Please remember that the average age of a patient is very high and not technology savvy. We hear physicians complaining about these EHR, so why do we expect patients to master them? In this world of instant gratification, patients want each interaction to be useful. These patient portals are not much help other than sharing part of the patient information in their EHR. These read-only portals have very limited application.
The services patient portals are offering are usually good for provider’s business and not so beneficial for the patient. There is very little a patient can do on these portals other than ready the information. Patients can’t correct a mistake — they have to go to the office at Kaiser to fix an error. They can’t share the information with the family and the list goes on.
—mHealth Application Developer
A third respondent proposed the need to take a step and consider the desired end-result of patient portals before more of these tools are put in place:
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. Then we should be talking about usability: what is needed to make this as easy and available as possible. Finally, we can talk about what tools we might consider using.
Perhaps the best take-away from this feedback comes from one reader who is actively engaged in getting patients to use the portal — patient portals are still in their early phase of development:
As the float Medical Assistant, in my clinic I’m often the one to “sell” the portal to new and established patients. 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.
—Registered Medical Assistant
Have comments of your own? Let us known what you think in the comments section below.