Recent research from Corporate Insight reveals the expectations, motivations and experiences of cancer patients using patient portals and third-party digital tools throughout their cancer experience. With the staggering number of cancer patients—approximately two million individuals will receive a cancer diagnosis in the United States in 2023—understanding and catering to this population’s needs is paramount. Health systems need to understand cancer patient preferences when it comes to digital tools, platforms, and resources. This allows health systems to tailor their offerings to enhance the overall cancer care experience. Moreover, the costs associated with cancer care are expected to exceed $240 billion by 2030, encompassing research, treatment, prevention, and supportive services. Analyzing patient preferences allows health systems to identify opportunities for optimal allocation, cost-efficiency, and improved patient outcomes.

Our survey and interview data reveal crucial aspects of cancer patients’ interactions with digital resources: 

Unmet patient expectations on patient portals 

With the prevalence of EPIC MyChart platforms across the health area, patients are often familiar with patient portals through other healthcare encounters. As such, these patients expect a standard array of functions such as appointment scheduling, messaging, and the ability to view previous appointment details and lab data. However, poor site layout can obscure data and functions, creating frustrating user experiences for a population already experiences great stress. Additionally, while cancer patients seek educational materials about their illness and treatments, they do not expect to find such information on patient portals. Very few patients even look towards health systems at large for education.

Influence of provider response time and ease of use on patient portal usage 

Patient portal usage is significantly influenced by the response time of healthcare providers and the ease of use of the portal. Staff shortages and long response times undermine desired functions like appointment scheduling and messaging. While some cancer patients found quick turn around times, others reported enduring tedious phone calls rather than wait several days for responses on the patient portal. Patients also expect patient portals to rival other aspects of their digital life, and pointed to out-of-industry examples like Rezy and ClassPass for desirable calendar integrations.  

Use of third party resources to fill support voids 

Patients seek additional support from third-party digital resources to compensate for unmet needs within patient portals. These resources offer services such as symptom tracking, appointment tracking, education about illness and treatments, as well as social and emotional support. Both patient-specific and broader platforms like Facebook serve as valuable sources of support and information.

A chart showing what cancer patients use their primary cancer educational resource forFor a deeper dive into five patient portals—standard MyChart, FollowMyHealth, Navigating Care, athenahealth, and Memorial Sloan Kettering’s customized MyChart experience—watch our Webcast on Digital Cancer Resources, or download the Health System Monitors Digital Cancer Resources report (subscription required).

Alexandra Bolshakov

Alexandra Bolshakov is an analyst on CI's healthcare team.