There was a lot of talk about Healthcare and Patient Portals in 2014. Health insurance exchange portals started to mature a little bit with healthcare.gov finally coming on line. The Affordable Care Act requires providers to provide access to medical records for patients and many have looked to implement patient portals.
Looking back, here are some important lessons that we learned.
Healthcare Informatics said that despite many challenges facing patient portals, patient portal usage continues to grow. In an October 2014 story, Survey: Patient Portal Usage Growing Despite Reservations, Gabriel Perna talks about a survey conducted by HIMSS that “More healthcare provider organizations are adopting patient portals, much of it facilitated by the electronic medical record (EMR) vendor.” Still, cultural issues were identified as the biggest challenge to patient engagement initiatives.
Janice Jacobs, Healthcare Life Sciences (HCLS) Social Media Director, Dell Services wrote an article called Best Practices for Patient Portals. She lists the following components as necessary for best-in-class patient portals:
- Branding and user experience are key. You have to focus on functionality as well. I’ll take this one step further and say you need to really design based on personas. Most patients will never use your patient portal. Some chronic-disease patients will use it all the time. And some people will use it while they are in treatment periods and forget it when not. The experience has be tailored for each of these types of users.
- Information display – you have to “deliver and display the information in a way which is most intelligible and actionable to patients and caregivers.” She shows an example of test results that show the results, but provide no context or guidance about what the results mean. A better approach is lay out the results so they are easier to consume, provide context (i.e. this number is too high), and are more graphical for the lay person.
- Use appropriate language. This applies to all healthcare portals too. Providers and insurance companies tend to speak in their language or medical terms too often. Lay people may not understand that when they want to see an eye doctor that they have to look up Ophthalmology, which is even spelled funny.
- Anticipate obstacles for patients. As mentioned before you will have all different types of users, some who may be very familiar with your portal and others who are not. Find out what are the barriers that people encounter and come up with a plan to fix them.
Finally, I presented “Healthcare Portals: 5 Core Needs for a Great Experience” at two IBM conferences in 2014. You can see the slides referenced here in a blog post by Michael Porter.