4 Things Your Patient Portal Should Include

Karen Gallagher Grant has a great blog post up on the MRA Health Information Services blog that talks about the ideal patient portal. She breaks it down into 4 things that a patient portal should provide:

  1. Information that is meaningful
  2. Easy access for patient review for data integrity
  3. Dashboard information about prescriptions that combine pharmacy information and clinical information
  4. Appointment scheduling

And 5 things she’d ideally like to see in a patient portal:

  1. Details about my next appointment
  2. Wellness tips
  3. Access to home health through telemedicine solutions
  4. Customized decision support via nationwide clinical data repositories
  5. Patient exchange of information

I found these lists really interesting, but I asked myself “Is this what we really want in a patient portal?

I think the number thing people want in a patient portal is access to a provider. Sure, it’s great to be able to access your paper records, your prescription history, your appointment list, and even some health information. Although the health information is never going to be as good as what Dr. Google can provide.

I was surprised that almost nothing (except the Telemedicine solution) talks about the patient portal being used to connect with the doctor. This is the most compelling reason for a patient to use the portal. They want to connect with someone. Notice the emphasis on the one, that means with an actual person. Yes, in many cases this can be the front desk, the biller, or the nurse, but patient portals see the most value when the portal is a way for a patient to connect to a person. Then, the rest of the resources become more valuable and used as well.

The problem is that most of the patient portals out there don’t do a good job connecting people. Although, maybe I’m just biased because of the Physia Connect messaging product we’ve developed and the docBeat messaging company I advise. However, seeing these two products helps me realize how beneficial it can be to make healthcare communication simple. Once we do that, it opens up whole new windows of opportunities.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference, EXPO.health, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • I agree with all of your four points. But what i feel which most of patient portal vendors miss in their software is user friendly interface.

  • I have now used 3 different provider portals and 2 payer portals. Following are some of my observations on the provider portals:
    – It was easy to tell which SW vendor provided the portal (in my case it was Epic and eCW).
    – In all cases, I could schedule/review appointments, manage demographic data and read/send general messages.
    – In 2 cases I could see all lab/imaging results.
    – In 1 case, I could review the current problem list.
    – In no cases could I email directly with my provider(s).

    My father was recently in the hospital for a 3-week extended stay. The hospital’s portal provided me with lab/imaging results/problem list and also provided historicals with trending. This was extremely helpful as I was not near by. I was able to help my mother interpret things and had more information at my finger tips so I could ask more specific follow-up questions of the doctors. The only frustration with the results is that they were not real time. They were batched. Regardless of when the doctor review/signed the result, it did not show up on the portal until after some kind of midnight processing which created as much as a 24 hour lag. This same portal also provides a very detailed account of the hospital stay post discharge that includes a listing of all orders and medications. It would be great if current active meds could be included within a portal for active hospital visits.

    The payer portals also are different – Aetna’s is much more intuitive and informative than is United Health’s.

  • Thanks for your comments Carmin. The caregiver space is a really interesting one for the portal and one that I’ve seen some traction.

  • My PCP launched a patient portal a couple of years ago. I’m not very impressed with it, don’t find it easy to navigate but one of the things that I find annoying is having to log into the site to email my Dr.’s office. I understand the need for HIPPA protection, but I probably have more than 50 different username/pswd combinations in my personal world with bank acct, credit cards, utility websites, personal email, etc., etc… And, so this adds yet another website to the list for me to have to track another usename/ pswd. I hate having to log in just to see an email.

    One of these days, someone is going to have to figure out how to deal with that to make accessibility less cumbersome.

  • Coming from a patient’s point of view, you should take a look at Group Health’s portal in Washington. You can easily get in touch with your MD and all members of your medical team very easily and have a response in 24-48 hrs usually by the next morning (less than 24 hrs) if not by the MD by their nurse. It can get a little frustrating when your PCP is off duty as covering physicians give you ‘pat’ answers and to see your PCP with a more detailed answer and depending on the covering MD it may or may not get marked as unread for when your PCP returns…but that is a human error. They also have quick links to DR. Google, all your lab results, demographics,etc and a good connections to both online and phone advise from a urgent care nurse. After moving to Michigan I come to appreciate how good Group Health is comparativly, it is fairly well connected to their EPIC system but was designed before they went to EPIC so it is not quite so generic as you normally find.

  • Kari,
    I agree with you. It can be a real pain to manage. We’re working on solving at least part of the problem you describe with a messaging system we’re creating as part of Physia.com. Basically we want to get out of the way and let people connect.

  • With all the bad press the VA has been getting lately, they have an excellent patient portal in My HealtheVet. It allows lab results to be viewed, prescriptions to be renewed, and future appointments to be viewed. I agree with the article in that, the most important piece is communication with clinicians and staff. The VA has Secure Messaging as a utility in the portal. A patient can communicate with any of their clinicians which really saves time in trying to negotiate the phone.
    I do feel that much of the new health technology isn’t used by patients because there is still a mentality that I see a doc and get a pill to fix my problem, end of story. Until the population as whole really becomes involved with their health care, this issue will continue. Patients need to see a benefit for them to start using a new technology.

  • The issue with email and security would seem relatively easy to solve, if the use of email by the patient comes with a consent to be emailed. We can certainly consent to operations and treatments with less knowledge of the ramifications of those versus the likelihood of having an email hijacked.

    A quick email from a surgeon before my operation was the best proof of his remembering me and my case, and of the reason I chose him.

  • We work with many patient portals and we have found that Intelligent Virtual Assistants (IVAs) are ideally suited to this problem. Not only do they provide a human-like avatar interface, but they can connect you directly with a person — via chat, phone or live video (depending on what the provider offers).

    And when a person isn’t available from the provider, the avatar can answer questions 24×7 in any language. Our customers report an average of 50% of requests are handled by the avatar, and customer satisfaction is high. Plus, 42% of patients are more likely to adhere to their doctor’s instructions if there is communication between visits. This is again ideally suited to IVAs, who can be that personalized conduit. This info graphic may be of interest – http://bit.ly/1soBk4Q.

    Sometimes people are more comfortable sharing personal information with an avatar knowing that it will get either answered or relayed to a physician, then answered.

    I don’t believe it is the one and only answer, but I do think it’s a viable solution to keep costs manageable while increasing member satisfaction.

  • That info graphic Katherine presented has some amazing statistics. WOW, “93% of patients want to manage their healthcare online”. I would love to see the statistical sampling plan used to derive those statistics. I could not find reference to the statistical sampling plan on that link.

  • The statistic came from an Accenture study in June 2012. Consumer’s appetite for managing their own healthcare information online is enormous.

    While there are certainly people who don’t fit this group, there are many more who not only want it but are expecting to be able to do this soon, in the same way they manage many other important facets of life online including financial information, ordering household goods, buying insurance. IMHO.

    Please feel free to email me directly if you’d like the sources to any of this information. Here is the source for the statistic Jim mentioned – http://newsroom.accenture.com/article_display.cfm?article_id=5474. The statistic should be 90% (not 93%). We will correct our info graphic and include all sources.

  • Katherine – I looked at the Accenture link but could not find a way to access the demographics of the 1,100 patients surveyed. It is very difficult to determine if that 1,100 people actually represent the United States patient population in a proportional way. Do you have access to the actual data. My companies business model is designed to reach out to what we call the “other 50%”. This is the segment of the population that we feel will never access a patient portal or other online service without assistance. That is why the actual demographic of this sampling is so important to us.

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