A Snapshot of Pros and Cons of Patient Portals used in the hospitals

Posted in Healthcare Management
asdasdas

Last Updated | November 11, 2021

 Overview:

With the introduction of electronic health records (EHRs), electronic medical records (EMRs), and medical device app development, patient portals are used increasingly by healthcare organizations of various sizes and specialities.  Primarily, {Top} digital health organizations develop patient portals to provide patients with timely access to their health data.

Since their development, portals have improved the interaction between the patients and physicians. They allow patients to play an active role throughout the process of health care.

Patient portals often come combined with EHRs, so they need no integration with any other system, as they get all the data from EHRs. On the other hand, some others are developed as stand-alone systems to get health data and need to be integrated with an EHR. 

There is more to learn about pros and cons of patient portals, so let’s get into the details:

When did Patient Portals Start?

Patient portals started after the introduction of Electronic Health Records. The first EHRs, which would eventually come packed up with patient portals, started developing in the 1960s. 

 In the late 1990s, patient portals came out of EHRs, utilizing EHR -data to help patients know about their health. EHRs initially adopted these patient portals to offer electronic tools to patients to make patient-centered communication easier. 

A few early large healthcare organizations to introduce and adopt patient portals were the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (which adopted MyChart) and Boston Children’s Hospital (which adopted Indivo). 

However, the patient portals were not widely used until 2006, when multiple initiatives coincided and eventually supported their development. 

The patient portal, MyChart, distinct from Epic MyChart, was originated by Sunnybrook in 2005. With an early launch in 2006, it became extensively available in 2007, and then it expanded to 10 other organizations. 

Consequently, with patient portals, personal health record systems are now commonly available to authorized users. Since their development, many institutions have adopted them, and by 2012, 57% of providers had already set up patient portals.  The primary purpose of developing patient portals is to give easy access to their health records to patients.

What are Some Basic Patient Portal Features?

Patient portals are designed to help patients securely view their health data, consult a healthcare provider, schedule their appointments, and do more to be active participants in their health care process. 

Here are some of the basic features that patient portals have:

Secure Messaging

Both healthcare providers and patients expect secure messaging as the primary feature of patient portals, as this feature enables both types of users to engage in secure communication.

This option ensures that any unauthorized users do not access the personal health data of patients.

Patient Registration

The workflow of practice can suffer if it uses a cumbersome system for the patient registration process. With patient portals, patients can get registered online, resulting in less workload on the practice’s front desk.

Scheduling Appointments

Scheduling appointments is a great feature that allows patients to schedule their hassle-free appointments with their care provider, considering their availability and need for the care. Patients can even send reminders to their providers. In case they miss their appointments, they can reschedule them after communicating with the provider. 

Prescription Refills

The ongoing treatments and routine medical procedures often require patients to have access to prescription refills. Medical care providers can facilitate this feature in the patient portals to ensure more patient engagement. 

Besides that, this feature is also essential because it helps remove unnecessary appointments from the schedule and saves time. 

Why is Patient Portal Important?

By providing easily accessible health information, a patient portal gives considerable benefits to both patients and doctors. One of the remarkable benefits of a patient portal is patient engagement, which allows patients to actively engage in their healthcare.

A patient portal’s importance is also due to its 24-hour access to patients to communicate with their physicians anytime, ask questions, schedule appointments, review notes, and establish a closer relationship with them. 

The patient portals eliminate the need for a phone call or multiple phone calls by patients to communicate with their physician, since these portals incorporate a secure messaging system that makes communication easier between them. 

Giving patients the ability to request referrals, prescription refills, and appointments directly from the portals boosts the efficiency of your medical staff. As a result, it allows your team to shift their focus to assisting you with providing care to patients with urgent needs and queries.

Before appointment check-ups, the portals allow registration forms to be filled electronically to keep your front office efficient. So, instead of walking your patients through what forms to fill out, portals facilitate your staff to focus on your patients and answer the questions they have about their health to make them feel comfortable with the administrative side of your facility.

With so many functionalities, portals add value to patient care and thus improve clinical care outcomes.

What Types of Patient Portals are there?

There are two main types of patient portals: an integrated service and a stand-alone system. Both are web-based tools, so let’s learn about their specifics: 

Integrated Service

An integrated patient portal system is functionality that comes combined with an EHR software or practice management software. 

Some EHRs have native built-in portals to sync data from EHRs into their patient portals. Such portals bring no additional costs, and you will also not need to pay extra to get more functionalities because these portals are already fully functional. 

Stand-alone Portal 

On the other hand, a stand-alone patient portal is an independent system that works on its own. Physicians who opt for stand-alone patient portals will then sync them with their EHRs. 

Purchasing a separate portal needs to be integrated with your EHR solution, for which you will be required to pay another monthly payment in addition to what you are already paying.

In case the vendor of the EHR that your practice already uses makes any changes to its system, it will also require modification in the stand-alone patient portal to run smooth integration with it. 

How is Patient Portal Implementation Done?

The implementation of patient portals involves different steps to be followed- from research to final implementation and execution of them as a system. Here are six steps to implement a patient portal:

Research and look for the right solutions.

Providers must learn as much as they can about all the solutions they come across. There is an array of portals available in the market, so while selecting one, you have to consider your specific goals and features based on the needs of the patients. 

Get buy-in and evaluate workflows.

Before moving forward with implementation, get buy-in from all stakeholders. Communicate all the features and benefits with the stakeholders and get them on board before you take action. 

The most effective portals should improve the proficiency of your workflows. Therefore, evaluate your workflows and enable new benefits to deliver better workflows.

Develop an onboarding plan and go live 

A successful implementation will work out if your patients and staff know how to use the new system. You need to look for a partner who gives consulting and onboarding to ensure you go well with your new patient portal. 

Onboarding plans usually illustrate details on training, new policies, workflow changes needed, roles, and responsibilities.

Finally, you can introduce your new portal to your patients and the entire practice. You must also make sure to communicate different benefits clearly and address all privacy concerns they have.

What are Patient Portal Regulations?

Organizations must be aware of patient portals regulations before they introduce one within their system.

The patient portals need to keep patient data secure to prevent any misuse of it. For this, healthcare organizations are required to implement reasonable and appropriate cybersecurity measures to avoid data violations.

Also, the law requires every practice to have 5 percent of its patients using the patient portal. Once a practice fulfills this requirement, its portal must be secure and flexible to use. Moreover, to comply with federal privacy requirements, the EHR vendor an organization, selects must ensure that patients access their clinical data through an encrypted connection.

After the health data is available to a physician, it must also be available to their patients within four working days. The data in the portal must be available for downloading in a standardized format.

While some EHR systems have built-in patient portals, other systems have separate applications.  In any case, setting up, configuring, and managing patient passwords are required. Thus, when selecting a patient portal, you must talk to your vendor to determine if their system complies with standardized regulations.

What are the Pros and Cons of Patient Portals in Healthcare?

Data from patient portals is essential for providers to understand the health care of patients, as well as for patients to keep track of their health progress. Patient portals pose many challenges and provide benefits for the enhancement of quality care.  Effectively using a patient portal is not easy because the portals come with many pros and cons in the healthcare industry.  

Below are some of the pros and cons of patient portals:

 

  • Pros

 

Fast communication

Portals provide physicians with a fast and easy way to communicate with chronically ill patients. They are a place to get complete and more accurate patient information.

Patient engagement

Portals empower patients to take ownership of their own healthcare, so they remain aware of the entire care process.

All-inclusive System

They are an all-in-one system for storing patient data which means neither providers nor patients have to toggle back and forth between systems. 

Streamlined administrative tasks

By allowing patients to schedule appointments online, request prescription refills, and do more, portals automate every practice-related task.  This results in the reduction of manual administrative tasks allowing front-office staff to help doctors provide better care to patients. 

24/7 access

Portals give patients seamless all-time access to their medical information. Not only this, but portals also allow patients to check and respond to messages anytime.

Multiple devices access

To view patient data, providers and patients do not need to access it via computers only. They can seamlessly access data from their smartphones or tablets when they are not using a computer.

Improved clinical outcomes 

Making both patients and physicians aware of what happens during the entire health care process, patient portals help improve the clinical outcomes of the healthcare process.

 

  • Cons

 

Like all other technologies, patient portals are not without limitations. While on the one hand, they create ease for both patients and doctors, they also have some cons. Below is a list of the cons of patient portals:

Difficult to navigate

Due to less knowledge of technology, most patients find it hard to navigate the interface of patient portals. This causes patients to experience frustration while learning to use them.

Privacy issues

Keeping each patient’s health data away from misuse is a challenge for providers. Health information is to be kept confidential, but the information on these portals is more prone to be seen by unwanted eyes.

Unfiltered health records

Portals contain multiple unfiltered health records that can confuse patients who are not well-versed in healthcare terminology. It creates concerns for physicians who put clinician notes for patients, which may not de decoded well by patients and result in misunderstanding.

Additional costs

Despite being stand-alone systems, patient portals need access to data from EHR systems to gather a patient’s medical information. This means your EHR and patient portals will need to be integrated, which will add more costs to your budget.

Data Security Concern

Patient portals pose many security concerns for data, as they may be a potential place for healthcare information hackers or data thieves to access a patient’s health data.

How do Patient Portals Create Value for Patients?

Patient portals create a lot of value for patients, including their primary function of providing them easy access to their medical records. They help to improve the relationship between the providers and patients as they keep them connected 24/7. 

Care providers can review patient health information, ask and answer questions, review notes, and make the patient-physician relationship closer than before.

Patient portals allow clinical staff to automate most of their front-desk tasks and focus on patients’ health, resulting in making patients feel confident about their health care process. 

With these systems, patients do not need to make multiple phone calls and do follow-ups because they can complete all their tasks, including scheduling appointments, asking questions, communicating their problems with providers, and confirming appointments online through these portals.

Moreover, as discussed above, portals allow patients to communicate with the caregivers securely, keeping their personal information confidential.

What are some Ethical Issues with Patient Portals?

Patient portals streamline the workflow of practice and help it share each patient’s medical records with each of them. But, then it has some ethical issues that need to be considered before running one in your practice.

Portals make it easy for practices to allow all their patients access to their medical records. Still, since the portals provide a massive amount of information, they might transfer an unwelcoming sense of responsibility to the patients. 

Care providers and patients often have conflicting views on how much information needs to be shared with patients. Even the sharing of medical notes might also need to be reconsidered since they are likely to create confusion for patients.

Physicians get a lot of relief by enabling the use of patient portals for providing care services. However, the physicians still need to listen carefully and actively to every patient’s needs by sparing more time. 

Not giving adequate time to every patient will be a failure for physicians to empathize with their patients. Thus, every practice and clinician must ensure to provide sufficient time for all their patients maintaining equity. 

The use of portals may sometimes result in ethical issues because the providers at times rely on technology and fail to understand the problems of their patients.

What are some Patient Portal Privacy and Security Issues

Some hospitals allow their patients to access their health data using a proxy account and physicians access these accounts using credentials of patient portals. This sharing of credentials may lead to multiple data security issues, including showing patients more data than intended and confusing providers if they do not know who they are communicating with. 

If the patient’s password is shared with the caregivers, they might see the information of patients that they might not find convenient to be seen by their care providers. Such private information includes past treatments for stigmatized illnesses or reproductive health decisions.

These systems also allow password re-use, which means if the providers know the password of a patient’s account, they can get access to their online banking too, especially during current times when the world is hit by the pandemic. As a result, more and more people are turning to online banking.

These privacy and security issues are necessary to be addressed by the vendors who develop these portals.

What are some Examples of Patient Portals?

Allscripts

Being one of the healthcare compliance solutions, Allscripts provides a patient engagement portal named Allscripts FollowMyHealth for patients to easily message healthcare professionals as well as view their lab results and other health-related information. Patients can also renew their medications using easy-to-use mobile-friendly apps, and the providers can develop care plans and track the progress of their patients’ health.  

Cerner Corporation

By offering tools like secure messaging, viewing lab results, appointment scheduling, and eVisits, the Cerner portal promotes patients to engage more in their health care. Patients can request appointments with their caregivers, update their demographic information, and fill their prescriptions through secure messaging.

Athenahealth

Athenahealth reduces the cost of telemedicine software and promotes patient engagement through easily accessible patient medical records, lab results, prescriptions, appointment schedules, and a messaging system. It also enables providers to encourage their patients to handle their routine inquiries independently.  

FAQs:

Are patient portals secure?

Yes, many patient portals are secure as they have security and privacy safeguards to keep your information protected. To ensure your data remains protected from any unauthorized access, these healthcare portals are hosted on a secure connection and can be accessed via a password-protected login. 

What is HL7 integration?

HL7 integration allows healthcare organizations to connect their systems with HL7 standards and seamlessly exchange patient information between multiple systems.

Conclusion:

The patient portals have multiple benefits, as they enable patients and providers to communicate all healthcare issues and keep track of all health data. 

Many different portals are available in the market with their advantages and disadvantages; however, they successfully serve their primary purpose. They keep patient data secure and automate administrative tasks of health care organizations, helping them save more time for focusing on each patient’s health more closely.

So, every care provider must choose the portal they find the best to fit their needs and the one that works well to streamline their workflow.

 

Contact Us