News Feature | April 21, 2015

Portals Don't Meet Patient Engagement Needs

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

HTO Patient Portals

Despite high hopes for patient portals, a HIMSS Analytics survey finds they are not living up to the expectations.

Patient portals have been touted as one of the best ways to improve patient engagement, increase the accuracy of patient records, and improve outcomes. Now, a HIMSS Analytics study reveals portals are not living up to patient engagement needs.

The study, Patient Engagement Series: 2014 Patient Portal Study, was sponsored by Inter Systems and focused on the level of commitment to patient engagement and investment by healthcare organizations nationwide. It consisted of an online survey of executives representing 114 healthcare organizations, combined with a focus group of nine of those leaders.

According to the study, the top drivers for patient engagement are enhancing and improving the health of the community (77 percent), the quest to build brand loyalty for patients (77 percent), and meeting MU requirements (60 percent). However, focus group participants admitted these strategies might not be fully developed, and some participants admitted they question their patient engagement plans.

“We don’t really have a true patient engagement strategy, just a portal project,” said one executive in the focus group. Another stated, “We say we have a patient engagement strategy, but it is really just part of other strategies – wellness, health improvement, population health.”

These comments point to serious issues according to Joe DeSantis, VP of HealthShare Platforms, InterSystems because while leaders say they have a strategy, they may be moving forward with only a tactical plan. “Even if organizations have a vision for real patient engagement, many are consumed with checking the boxes for meaningful use.

“Unfortunately, a patient portal based on a single EHR is not enough to move patient engagement forward. Engagement needs to span the entire care continuum. The short-term focus on meaningful use has often been at the expense of long-term strategic goals.”

One of the areas of chief concern is the use of patient portals. “Most portals don’t really align well with the definition of patient engagement,” one leader said. “They are great for convenience, but they don’t actually help people manage chronic diseases, improve their health, or give them resources they need to move toward healthier behaviors. Most of the tools out there just don’t deliver on that promise.”

The study shows leaders are now searching for next-generation portals to offer the functionality which will enable patients to become partners in their own care. In particular, in order to fully engage patients, healthcare providers want functionality such as e-visits or e-consultations (80 percent), interoperability across multiple providers (70 percent), health evaluation and coaching (70 percent), and tele-visits (50 percent).

“Game-changing patient engagement will give patients timely, comprehensive information enabling them to partner with their care providers – and to truly manage their health,” DeSantis concluded.