Ask just about anyone: a clinician, provider executive, vendor or patients and most will agree that unlocking the value of patient portals is a vital element of a successful health system today and in the future.  Currently, providers are facing challenges as adoption of patient portals has been lower than expected.  A March 2017, Government Accountability Office (GAO) report to Congress evaluated the current landscape and surveyed patients and health system executives.  The report reveals that while 95% of health systems offer some sort of patient portal tool, only 15% of patients are using the tools in a meaningful way. 1 Leading health systems have identified this predicament on their own as well and are investing in integrated solutions that will drive operational efficiency and improved patient engagement.  A recent survey on healthcare consumerism by McKinsey & Co. strongly indicates a willingness by respondents to use online portals to schedule appointments and communicate with care providers.  In fact, more than half of the participants 65 and older indicated they viewed website patient portals (65%) and scheduling appointments online (78%) as more effective than traditional methods. 2

For many providers, Meaningful Use was the trigger to implement and stand up patient portals. Health systems and providers were typically provided patient portal solutions as a part of their enterprise EMR implementation. Limited focus on portal design and patient-centric value were typically overshadowed by the near-term necessity to efficiently implement clinical and revenue cycle EMR components.  According to [Deloitte Consulting’s “2016 Consumer Priorities in Health Care” survey], health system executive’s confidence in their vendor’s ability to provide the functionality needed to meet more advanced patient engagement goals, ranked their confidence at 3.3 level on the 1 to 5 scale.3  Past efforts have frequently been difficult because spending on patient engagement is typically spread across organizations – with information technology typically buying the tools, ambulatory departments paying for the costs associated with the program administration, and marketing shelling out the money for promotions.

Healthcare systems are not giving up, Vecna is observing renewed momentum emphasizing a consumerized approach to patient engagement.  Applying best practices learned from other industries, such as how airlines have successfully implemented online check-in portals is possible.  The McKinsey survey results cited above align to what we’re seeing, health systems are investing in capabilities that provide value to patients and shift administrative tasks from being done onsite to being completed in a portal online.  Vecna believes this consumer-focused approach to driving adoption of patient portals is the next step for enterprise health systems to drive valuable enhancements to patient engagement.  Changes in consumer behavior do not happen rapidly (think about how long it took you or consumers in general to regularly use airline check-in portals), by making incremental enhancements health systems will continue delivering long term value to consumers that will drive adoption of patient portals.

Today, very few health systems offer scheduling through their patient portal.  The reasons scheduling is not offered vary from a lack of standard scheduling parameters across a health system to the potential high costs and risk of migration.  We’re beginning to witness a shift toward further investment and focus on patient portal scheduling and check-in, because the enhanced patient value and operational efficiency are measurable and can deliver immediate value.  For patients, they can schedule appointments at their convenience without having to call an office.  Using a portal allows them to see what’s available and pick the time they desire.  For health systems, it reduces the work of staff supporting appointment scheduling and streamlines appointments across the enterprise.

The healthcare industry is undergoing a radical transformation, powered by increasingly adamant customer expectations and a fundamental shift in payment and reimbursement structures. The transition from volume based to value-based care will require more significant changes than just administration and billing, it will mean an entirely new paradigm for how healthcare is conceived, delivered and measured. Despite these challenges, it also presents an opportunity to refocus attention on the people served and work toward the health and wellness of our communities. The focus on operational efficiency and patient engagement fosters a comprehensive approach to engaging with empowered consumers as partners rather than recipients. By building on the evolution of already consumerized industries, healthcare systems can accelerate their path forward and control their own narrative. With a strategic application of value-add technologies, these healthcare systems can realize significant gains in mobility, ubiquity and immediacy in the short term while laying the groundwork for long-term growth.

  1. http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-17-305
  2. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/debunking-common-myths-about-healthcare-consumerism
  3. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/life-sciences-and-health-care/articles/healthcare-consumer-experience-survey.html