News Feature | August 6, 2013

3 Questions Providers Need To Ask About Patient Portals

Source: Health IT Outcomes
Katie Wike

By Katie Wike, contributing writer

Stage 2 Meaningful Use requires providers both have a patient portal and achieve a minimum of 5 percent patient usage. Answering these three questions can help facilities achieve those goals.

Health IT Outcomes recently wrote, “Starting in 2014, as part of Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements, physicians must ensure that more than 50 percent of all unique patients seen during the EHR reporting period are provided timely online access to their health information. In addition more than 5 percent of those patients must actually view, download, or transmit to a third party their health information. One way to meet these requirements – and avoid the penalties that come with failing to do so – is through the creation of patient portals.” The question was then raised, “So, if you build your portal, will patients come?”

Most feel that, yes, patients will utilize portals at a rate that will satisfy the minimum standards required under MU. That said, answering the following questions will help providers considering a patient portal to maximize the chances of meeting the requirements.

1. Is the portal secure?
A secure data exchange is one of the most important requirements for a portal system. Healthcare Info Security quotes privacy attorney Adam Greene, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, as saying, “Some important security considerations in rolling out patient portals include remembering to include portals in risk assessments. That includes assessing the risk of the portal being accessed by unauthorized individuals or data being intercepted during transmission.” Greene adds organizations should determine if the vendor providing the portal software has had the product independently tested for security robustness.

Authentication of users is another consideration providers need to consider. Greene notes, “While the HIT Policy Committee that advises the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has recommended that clinicians use multi-factor authentication for remotely accessing patient data, the committee's Privacy and Security Tiger Team has recommended that authentication of patients access to their data should not be so difficult that it becomes a deterrent to consumers using portals.” Some factors to consider for patient portal user authentication, according to Greene, include:

  • Whether there needs to be initial in-person authentication of patients.
  • Whether patients have the option of requesting higher security, such as multifactor authentication.
  • What the policy for consecutive failed login attempts should be.

2. Will the portal offer value to both the provider and the patient?
EHR Intelligence notes, “So many EHR vendors claim to have patient portals included in the software that allow them to safely interact with their medical records. For some vendors, it’s a key ingredient to their EHR that helps drive revenue and for others, it’s just an add-on at the end of the EHR feature list.” The question is then asked: “What characteristics make a Web portal valuable to patients and providers?” EHR Intelligence answers its own question, listing a number of factors, including:

  • Simple and user-friendly interface - How easy it is for the patient to log into the portal? And once they’re in, can they navigate their way around? The portal needs to be usable for the average patient, otherwise there’s little point to offering one.
  • Key functionality for healthcare providers
    • Check appointment schedules
    • Requests an appointment
    • Check lab results
    • Examine statements
    • Request a prescription refill
    • Complete new patient intake forms
    • Manage patients with messages and alerts about medication alerts or conditions
    • Lab results, radiology reports and procedure information is always accessible

3. Does the portal offer the desired functionality?
Providers need to evaluate what is expected out of a portal with the portal’s capabilities. Healthcare IT News writes, “As with any technology investment, it is essential for organizations to conduct a thorough evaluation and selection process if they wish to maximize any patient portal application. The key is to ask questions designed to determine whether a solution offers benefits beyond basic workflow efficiencies and patient–provider communication.” Some questions Healthcare IT suggests organizations ask to enable greater continuity among their various divisions are:

  • Will the portal meet both the hospital’s needs and the needs of its ambulatory practices?
  • Can it generate aggregated information?
  • Can the portal generate aggregated lists that patients can interact with?
  • What are its scheduling capabilities?
  • How does the portal facilitate electronic form delivery and completion?