Research Shows Health System Patient Portals Are Highly Valued, yet Technologically Lacking

by on Sep 19, 2019

Patient portals enable healthcare organizations to provide support services to improve patients’ health and wellness. ​Through these portals, patients expect easy access to capabilities like appointment scheduling, bill pay, prescription management and personalized notifications, as well as integration of data between hospitals and health insurers.​ Although patient portals give users access to extensive health records and account-related capabilities, the integration of new technology into these platforms is not standardized across the industry.

Currently, the healthcare industry is undergoing a push for increased integration of technology, such as online communications between patients and physicians, to improve efficiency in care and streamline patient-provider collaboration. For example, New York Presbyterian Hospital, a national leader in telehealth and telemedicine, is investing more in innovative health information technology programs by expanding its already comprehensive NYP OnDemand telehealth services suite. ​Indeed, hospitals and health systems have a multitude of opportunities to improve the digital capabilities they offer to patients and providers, but many organizations are still prioritizing this well below other aspects of patient care.

Among the organizations that Corporate Insight’s Health System Monitor tracks, many—such as Banner HealthMass Gen Children’s Hospital and Houston Methodist Hospital—are using VR and AR technology to assist with surgeries, manage pain and combat mental health issues in innovative ways. Other firms, including NYP, are introducing video services through which doctors and nurses can share messages, patient locations, surgical information and OR video and photo updates with patients and families. Additional technologies like AI and voice assistants are helping to reduce organizations’ information bottlenecks and administrative burdens by functioning as triage agents that can reduce the number of unnecessary calls and visits to the doctor’s office or ER.

Obviously, fully digitizing health system patient portals requires substantial investments in research, implementation and time. While the process is not yet complete, we have seen Health System Monitor organizations start to incorporate more digital capabilities into their legacy patient portal infrastructures, such as self-servicing functions and virtual visits, in order to streamline the patient-provider relationship. Organizations that allow patients to schedule appointments online provide one of the most used and sought-after functionalities. Allowing current patients to schedule appointments creates an intuitive retail-like experience, while letting visitors request an appointment online helps draw in new patients.

We conducted user interviews on health system patient portals in August 2019, and we learned that direct online scheduling capabilities for both site visitors and current patients are vitally important, as most people find making an appointment over the phone cumbersome and time-consuming. Unfortunately, real-time appointment scheduling capabilities are not readily available to patients across the industry, although best-in-class organizations—including Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, Mayo Clinic, Northwell Health and WakeMed—offer online scheduling for virtual visits, specialty visits and mental health services and feature urgent care wait lists and scheduling tools. If well-promoted, these capabilities not only improve patient satisfaction, they can contribute to a decrease in unnecessary ER visits.

Participants in our user tests also highlighted notifications and reminders as effective in helping them keep track of upcoming appointments and tasks and stay active on patient portals. Organizations seem to be realizing this and are increasingly allowing patients to manage their alert preferences for appointment reminders, billing, managing accounts and messaging providers. Certain hospitals, such as Houston Methodist, NYU Langone and Sutter Health, excel in offering varied notification options that allow patients to customize their experiences and drive action toward health goals.

Patients, accustomed to the convenience of online consumerism, now expect similar convenience in other areas of their lives, including healthcare.​ While the healthcare industry continues to leverage technology to improve patient outcomes, our research has uncovered significant areas for improvement in the online patient experience. By leveraging our competitive intelligence methodology, Corporate Insight’s Health System Monitor research identifies organizations offering best-in-class digital experiences and provides actionable recommendations for improvement in this area.

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