Patient Portals: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Healthcare Marketplace

By Lisa Laravie, Hayes Management Consulting
Twitter: @HayesManagement

I experienced the “pain” of accessing and managing multiple provider portal sites firsthand following an injury and subsequent surgery earlier this year. In the months following my hospitalization, I walked away with paperwork and access codes to five different patient portal sites, including my PCP, surgeon, the initial hospital where I received emergency treatment, the hospital where I had surgery, and in addition (not related to my injury) my OB/Gyn, and recently, my dentist! Despite my healthcare IT background, it was a daunting task to sign up for each site and as you can imagine the lack of linkage leads to a very fragmented view of my patient data.

But, the fragmented view is only the beginning of the problem with multiple portals. There are multiple log-ins and each portal has different requirements for my user ID and password. One site advertises that they are a “Healthkey” member, and if your providers are all members then you can link user IDs and passwords, resulting in one user ID and password for all sites. In my case, only one out of the five portals offered this feature. Another portal offered the use of Facebook, Google, LiveID, and Yahoo as a log-in, with the disclaimer that the only advertised “secure” site was the vendors’ login.

Another difficulty is that each portal looks and feels different. Each portal offers its own navigation, verbiage and menus. A “roadmap” for each would be helpful or maybe it would add to the confusion. Perhaps most alarming is that each portal contained different “pictures” of my healthcare information, including conflicting medication lists. None of the current medication lists were accurate. Some had missing active medications, some listed medications that I no longer take, some contained the wrong dosage, while others listed no medications at all.

Only one portal (my PCP’s portal) was close to containing an accurate medical history, and even that was incomplete. Only three out of five portals contained lab test results, just one had a complete list, and two contained imaging results.

How do we make the patient portal experience better? A few thoughts:

  • Offer additional ways to consolidate and standardize patient user IDs and passwords
  • Create and follow a standard model for menus and navigation
  • Develop a single repository for access to all data or optimize sharing of patient healthcare data between systems
  • Standardize accuracy requirements for entry of healthcare data to provide a consistent, accurate view for all patients

Some organizations are moving toward standardization. One vendor has developed a “shared” patient portal and while the concept is on track, there is still the option to customize the look and feel based on organizational build decisions. The result is a fragmented record that almost looks the same. Both of the hospitals I was treated at use the “same” EHR, but each EHR utilizes their organization’s version. In order for healthcare organizations and providers to meet Meaningful Use (MU) requirements for patient access to their electronic healthcare records, and communication with their patients, they will need to simplify the process overall. Personally, I was ready to pitch all of the information on these portals when I realized how much of my time would be involved, measured in hours, not minutes. And that’s not counting the time I could spend logging into each portal to update (and correct) my personal healthcare information. The typical patient will not have the patience, and quite possibly the ability to handle management of multiple sites and all that goes with them. And while we have come a long way, there’s still much work to do in simplifying patient portals.

This article was originally published in Hayes’ Healthcare Blog and is republished here with permission.