What is an Online Patient Portal and Why Your Clinic Needs One?
According to Verified Market Research, the global patient portal market is expected to skyrocket from USD 1.94 billion in 2018 to USD 7.34 billion by 2026.
This data was published before the COVID-19 pandemic and might change since the demand for online patient portals in all probability will increase. EIT Health-supported venture Wellola has already launched the HSE COVID-19 Portal. It is designed to support general practitioners, primary care providers and patients in Ireland during COVID-19.
Agente decided to support this initiative and talk more about online patient portal software, its benefits, features, and challenges.
What is an online patient portal and how does it help?
An online patient portal is a secure online website that gives patients convenient, fast, 24-hour access to personal health information from anywhere with an Internet connection.
According to the World Health Organization, chronic diseases have been projected to account for almost three-quarters of all deaths worldwide in 2020. A study by Kaiser Permanente revealed that online patient portals alone can improve preventive and chronic disease management by nearly 10% for some conditions. Other studies confirm that these types of healthcare IT tools generate patient loyalty and increase patient satisfaction and engagement.
What are the benefits of an online patient portal?
Patient engagement and satisfaction continues to emerge as a growing theme in healthcare since the advent of value-based care. Let’s discuss what makes an online patient portal app great for both patients and providers.
Better patient communication
The portal allows patients to accomplish tasks that would normally require long phone conversations. Patients can share important information, such as clinical summaries or educational materials, request appointments, referrals, and prescription refills. It increases the efficiency of clinical staff, allowing them to focus on the patients who have the most urgent care needs and questions.
Streamlined patient registration and administrative tasks
With patient portals, patients complete registration forms electronically prior to appointment check-in, which keeps front-office work efficient. Now, the front office staff can focus on the patient in front of them. It ensures that by the time the patient reaches your clinic, they feel comfortable with the administrative side of things. Their only remaining questions are medical in nature.
Greater focus on patient care
Physicians are less distracted since they can access and share patient information electronically. They don’t need to page through the patient’s chart to find the information needed. Instead, they can focus solely on providing a higher standard of care.
Improved clinical outcomes
Since patients get a more convenient way to perform such tasks as requesting repeat prescriptions and referrals or book an appointment, they become more compliant. When patients follow doctors’ orders, clinical outcomes improve.
In 2019, the Journal of Medical Internet Research published a study of patient portals and how they facilitated the work of healthcare providers. According to 58 articles on patient portals reviewed in the study, the systems enabled the easier discovery of medical errors, improved adherence to medications and overall patient engagement, and the streamlined patient-provider communication.
Optimized medical office workflow
Giving patients online access frees up medical staff from writing down prescription requirements, scheduling appointments, reporting on lab results, and taking messages for physicians.
Patients increase engagement in and ownership of their own health. If a patient has a chronic condition that impairs their ability to visit the surgery in person, the online portal is the place to discuss issues and answer questions. It increases the patient's ability to engage in their own care.
24/7 access to EHR
An online patient portal app gives unlimited access to logically arranged patients’ health records. What’s more, medical staff can effectively track any changes in them and update the treatment course.
Even if healthcare providers offer patient portal access, that doesn’t mean all patients actually access their health information. Online patient portals may be lagging behind consumer desires for digital engagement. Below are the major challenges that patient portal face which prevent them from offering a comprehensive hub in which people can engage in their own care.
Patients are reluctant to adopt these systems
Healthcare providers might be aware of the health perks of using a patient portal. Yet, patients are seldom as excited about the portal as the providers are. Portals are sometimes viewed negatively because providers struggle to establish the notion of its obligatory use. After using the portal, patients can end up frustrated with a confusing website interface. Often they just don’t know how to use the system, receive a response to a query, or upload images for doctors to see. Patients are regularly overwhelmed with automated emails and clinical notes with medical jargon.
Here are the tips to encourage patients to adopt the online patient portal:
- Register patients in the office. Before or after the appointment office staff can help to sign up and demonstrate how to navigate.
- Advertise the portal. Hand out flyers or informational brochures to patients explaining how the portal will help patients and how to sign up. Display promotion posters throughout the office.
- Encourage and educate patients to use the porta during visits. Patients trust their providers and can be persuaded in person.
- Share exclusive clinical data. For example, share lab results only via an online patient portal.
- Ask for feedback. Ask patients about their portal experience, what they particularly like or dislike, so that you can change or add some features.
Healthcare data security concerns
Healthcare organizations that decide to build their own applications must adhere to strict security regulations stated in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). This aims to keep personally identifiable information (PII) and health information (PHI) safe and secure.
Another data concern is that healthcare organizations have to ensure interoperability. This means the patient portal or any health tool must be able to interact with other systems for faster and more transparent data exchange.
Due to the scarcity of internal IT resources and the wish to comply with security regulations, many healthcare organizations use third-party vendors to build their online patient portals. However, you should be aware that if a vendor commits violations, you won’t be exempt from penalties. Healthcare providers should sign a HIPAA Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with their vendors in order to allay compliance concerns.
Online patient portal features
To make an online patient portal useful for both patients and healthcare providers, consider including the following features:
Patient registration – to create a profile and input all necessary information through a tablet or computer.
Appointment scheduling – to set appointments with more than one doctor and location. Patients should be able to choose time and day.
Patient customer service – to find help if patients can’t understand how to use a particular feature.
Prescription refills – to request a repeat prescription without the need to see the doctor.
Patient EHR – to quickly refer to clinical records and share it with physicians.
Physician profile – to keep track of your physicians’ specializations, accreditations, and billable hours. Patients should be able to browse through the directory and choose the physician best suited to their concern.
File repository – to view, download, or transmit laboratory test results and medical data to an external third-party, such as another healthcare provider, a caregiver, or an app.
Financial functions – to make online payments, view e-statements, receive receipts and check billable physician hours.
Notifications – to receive reminders about the upcoming appointments, prescription refills, follow-ups, and laboratory schedules.
Secure direct messaging – to communicate with healthcare providers directly via direct messaging, emails, and file exchange.
For healthcare providers
Patient management – to access medical records, including EHR, dates of previous consultations, physician notes, and prescriptions. Physicians can also use this feature to keep track of the patient’s biometrics.
Dashboards/Reports –to summarize the metrics of the clinic or physician, such as the number of patients seen in the last months and extra hours.
Notifications – to receive reminders about upcoming appointments, repeat prescriptions, follow-ups, and laboratory schedules.
Secure direct messaging – to communicate with patients directly via direct messaging, emails and file exchange.
Custom vs off-the-shelf healthcare IT apps
There’s always a temptation to buy a ready-made solution to save time and money. However, the desired result may not be achieved. Out-off-the-box patient portals may not be the best fit for your organization, especially if you are a small-town practice.
Ready-made healthcare apps often contain a lot of features you don’t need and lack the ones you do need. This can result in incompatibility with your current workflows, which confuses both employees and patients who won’t use the system whatsoever.
Only a custom-built solution addresses all the needs of your organization. If an off-the-shelf solution is not customized to a particular healthcare system, the system needs to adjust itself to recurring solution updates. It’s not convenient and also costs money.
It is worth mentioning that ready-made solutions are often bought on a subscription basis, which will eventually cost several times more than a custom platform.
Take a look at the examples of the best healthcare website designs, namely online patient portals. General practitioners and primary care providers can set up an account in the patient portal to offer their patients secure online communications. The portals support such features as:
- Online booking
- Secure messaging
- Resource sharing
- Video consultation software (in-app or via text or e-mail)
- Form completion to assist in triaging
- Payment functionalities (e-invoicing, payment in video-screen,etc.)
- E-prescriptions (coming soon)
Source: COVID-19 portal
With Patient Online Services, a patient can manage their records, results, appointments and review what your doctor told them during the appotment.
Source: Mayo clinic
MyChart patient portal allows patients to access information about the care they receive at any Mercy Health facility or physician office.
Source: Mercy Health
Mobile patient portal by Agente
Recently we've been working on a patient portal app that allows for storing patient records, editing, and sharing patient check-up history, making notes in a matter of a few taps on a screen.
Government health care officials have long been encouraging the use of online patient portals. Now you know why. The digitalization of medical workflow streamlines the work of healthcare providers and allows patients to be more engaged with their care team. However, it’s important to understand that the system's efficacy depends on a number of factors:
- Comprehensive feature set\How these features are presented and whether they are convenient to use
- Easy onboarding and help with operating the patient portal
- Data security compliance.
We tried to shed light on the benefits of patient portals. Maybe your healthcare organization doesn’t have one yet? Or maybe you want to switch from an off-the-shelf solution to a flexible and up-to-date patient portal? If so, read more about our healthcare software development services.
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