Patient Portals And Missed Opportunities

As value-based care becomes common practice, healthcare organizations are working to increase patient engagement—but are current engagement strategies getting the job done when it comes to improving outcomes long term?

HIMSS Analytics conducted a study on patient engagement at healthcare organizations across the U.S. The research consisted of an online quantitative survey of executives from 114 healthcare organizations as well as a focus group that involved nine of these leaders.

The study showed that 90% of the participating healthcare organizations had an engagement strategy in place. Of these, 77% were driven by the goal of improving the health of the community, while 60% wanted to meet meaningful use requirements.

Interestingly, 71% of the organizations were using patient portals to engage patients. However, most currently available portals provide only minimal engagement, and respondents were using them mostly to satisfy the most basic requirements of meaningful use.



The study also reported that 54% are using portals that can provide services including technology and content. 51% are using portals as an interoperable platform that shares data from multiple sources. More than 60% are using portals provided by their EMR vendors.

One of the study’s sponsors noted that patient portals based on one EMR will not be enough to fully engage patients, because they are not designed to follow the patient throughout the entire care continuum. 

Patient-side factors affecting portal use as an engagement tool include the simple ones of many patients not being aware that a portal is available, or not being sure how to use it. 

TechnologyAdvice conducted a random survey of 430 patients and found that about 40% didn’t know whether their physicians had a patient portal. 49% recalled being shown the portal either during or outside of a visit, but only 9.1% said that their physicians used the portal to follow up after an office visit.

The study suggests that while more physicians are offering portals, many are failing to tell patients that the tool exists, and thus miss out on an opportunity for engagement between visits. 

Members of the HIMSS Analytics study’s focus group were also concerned about portal use. They agreed that portals are convenient, but when it comes to helping patients improve their overall health, manage their chronic illnesses, or change unhealthy behaviors, today’s portals fall short.

So, what needs to change? The focus group members named the following features that will need to be included moving forward:

  • E-visits
  • Interoperability among providers
  • Health evaluation
  • Patient coaching
  • Telehealth visits

Portals have the potential to be valuable tools for engaging patients at different points in their care. Using portals to provide robust, meaningful content can help patients prepare better for tests and procedures, understand instructions their providers give them, comply with treatment, and take an active role in managing their own health. 

Making these changes can go a long way in delivering a positive experience for patients, along with fulfilling the original premise of patient portals: enhancing patient-provider communication, empowering patients, supporting them between visits, and—most importantly—improving patient outcomes.

1 comment about "Patient Portals And Missed Opportunities".
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  1. Leslie Nolen from The Radial Group, August 28, 2015 at 10:27 a.m.

    I dream of the day when ideas for improving patient-facing tools actually incorporate PATIENT FEEDBACK and basic principles of usability which are already in use in other industries.

    In the real world, portals usually break even the most basic usability principles. They offer no "meaningful use" for *patients* and mostly present fairly technical information straight out of the EMR in a one-way format. They're certainly not oriented around patient actions, decisions or dialogues.

    They're just one more example of one-way communication from healthcare professionals to patients. 

    In fact, judging from how I've seen them used, the primary value of the portal in the eyes of most practitioners is CYA, elimination of administrative costs and labor to mail lab results, and avoidance of telephone calls re: appt reminders and lab results.

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