Getting patients to participate proactively in their health and wellbeing is key to preventative medicine. From a provider and practitioner perspective, patient engagement is an essential component in the value-based reimbursement model. It’s on this basis that patient portals were developed; it was intended to be a direct link to patients, but these portals are yet to deliver on its potential.
So, what does the future of patient engagement look like and what part do patient portals play in it? Patient portals are largely defined as a secure online website that gives patients convenient, 24-hour access to personal health information from anywhere via an Internet connection. Up until now, these portals have been developed as a place for patients to store health records, and (sometimes) to open lines of communication to their provider and/or pay medical bills. It sounds reasonable enough except that less than 20% of patients actually use patient portals to do any of those things. After more than a decade of trying and testing the value of patient portals, the low adoption rate is attributed to the fact that portals haven’t been designed with the patient in mind. Often times difficult to use, it’s rarely met the needs of patients who have complex care plans.
On the other hand, healthy patients rarely access their records because their general health (and medical histories) typically don’t change significantly in the short and medium term. What we now know is that giving patients access to their medical records and the ability to carry out some admin is not enough to engage them in their health. Experts believe that the differentiator between patient portals as we know them, and patient portals of the future will be that they will become more patient-centred. Broadly speaking, that means creating a user-friendly technology that’s easy to navigate and includes a few significant features, such as:
- Completely mobile friendly that allows patients to capture, store and access information from their smartphone;
- Supports more meaningful interaction between patient and provider;
- Organises and summarises patient data from multiple EHRs and consumer devices such as fitness trackers;
- Automates more actions whereby patients will be able to provide relevant information in advance of both virtual and in-office visits via questionnaires stored within the portal.
These are the next steps in creating patient portals that are truly a primary tool for engaging patients in their own care. Beyond that, portals are likely to become highly personalised, designed to collect data from multiple sources before analysing and contextualising the information. Supported by AI and intelligent technologies, we can expect patient portals to become an essential part of precision healthcare.