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What the market says you need in your patient portal

I had an interesting chat with some healthcare execs a few weeks back. We were discussing the real impact of increasingly shifting regulatory compliance deadlines. Think about it: when the government puts forth direction, and incentive, to effectuate a certain change that often leads to healthcare executives realigning their own strategies in favor of this mandate. This means, in the case of Meaningful Use, putting off previously considered initiatives in favor of the new ticking patient portal time bomb. When the timeline then gets shifted, sometimes again and again, it can seem like a cruel joke.

As we are all well aware, the Meaningful Use timeline is now delayed. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has added a third year to Stage 2 of the EHR meaningful use program and has delayed the start of Stage 3 until 2017. Under the revised timeline, Stage 2 will be extended through 2016 and Stage 3 will begin in 2017 for those providers that have completed at least two years in Stage 2. It is now expected that in fall of 2014 CMS will release a notice of proposed rulemaking for Stage 3 along with the 2017 Edition of the ONC Standards and Certification Criteria, which will outline more details of the new timeline. The final rule, with all requirements for Stage 3, would follow in the first half of 2015.

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With these facts as the undercurrent to our discussion, our conversation ventured into a discovery session on what true patient engagement means and whether strategies should adhere to government regulations or, instead, market demand. Want to guess what side of that debate I argued from? Yes, there are providers that will continue to drag their feet. I’m not saying that Meaningful Use is not warranted because yes, indeed, it is. However, the market will ultimately be the truest driver for competition among healthcare providers seeking to engage with patients. As a result, the forward thinking strategists in healthcare organizations nationwide should have their sites on the marketplace horizon.

What does the market think of patient engagement?

For the answer to this question I refer to a report by Frost & Sullivan that was released before the delay was announced entitled “U.S. Patient Portal Market for Hospitals and Physicians: Overview and Outlook, 2012-2017\0x2033. This report predicted growth in the patient portal market over the next five years.

“The need to fully engage patients as a member of the care team is fundamentally about encouraging individuals to become more involved with their healthcare, so they will be motivated to make behavioral changes that can positively impact their health status. That need will only grow as the healthcare system moves towards accountable care and value-based reimbursement. The importance of this movement cannot be underestimated.”

The report then categorized those EHR module patient portals (aka “The Meaningful Use Portal”) as “Patient Portal 1.0.” and qualified these solutions as not being capable of providing the “advanced interoperability and functionality needed to support clinical integration, accountable care and ongoing and sustainable patient engagement.” No arguments there.

However, they also predicted a significant disruption in the years to come. The report states that as healthcare reform and transformation advances, providers will seek new ways to engage patients and influence behavior using connected health and will increasingly look for more advanced solutions that are proven to consistently motivate sustained behavioral change. These solutions are referred to as “Patient Portal 2.0.” The report estimates that this new era of patient engagement will make its way to reality between 2015 – 2017.

Setting Patient Portal Strategy to Market Demand

The Patient Portal 2.0 that the market requires relies on a host of functions that think outside the confines of Meaningful Use. If you want to develop a portal that truly reaches out into a population and makes a difference, then you must, better than anyone else, understand the purpose of the portal. You must know to whom your portal is targeted. I’ve never met two patient populations that are the same, which makes implementing an out of the box portal for every population a bit discomforting. You must devote a lot of time to figuring out what motivates your intended audience. That understanding must be crystal clear before you even consider how the portal should be designed. Document, in detail, what your experience needs to communicate with the patient. What kinds of tools best match this experience?

Want some ideas on what others are doing to meet market demand? Here are some features that the market is currently pushing towards:

  • Telehealth that moves beyond the virtual visit
  • Dynamic scheduling
  • Social collaboration
  • Gamification and serious games
  • Avatars for personalized health coaching
  • Health information exchange across diverse care settings
  • Integration of clinical and financial data,

Any others you are seeing out there in the marketplace? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.

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