The “Patience” Portal: Speed and Ease of Use for Patient Engagement

Guest post by Simon Wieczner, CEO, Snowbound Software.

Simon Wieczner
Simon Wieczner

In today’s concierge economy there is an increasing number of things available on-demand at our beck and call. TV shows and movies, car services, local dining hot spots, even directions, are all accessible at the ready. With the proliferation of voice commands, typing has even been removed from the equation in certain instances. Patient portals aren’t quite there yet but the consumerization of IT has forever changed user expectations and unfortunately, left many industries struggling to catch up.

For the healthcare industry specifically, it’s been a hard pill to swallow as organizations have gone after the various government incentives offered through the HITECH Act. As those organizations have found out, the trail from paper-based records to fully digital portals can be a long and weary journey, but if the lofty consumer expectations can’t be met, the impatient patients will rear their ugly heads and make meaningful use requirements an even more elusive prey. The good news is that there are ways for healthcare organizations to make their patient portals seamless and efficient without having to develop an extravagant user experience that is on par with an Apple operating system.

When developing a patient portal, first and foremost, ease of use is of the essence to minimize the time needed for patients to accomplish tasks. Patients have very short and finite attention spans that are easily surpassed if they have to jump through too many hoops. Stage 2 meaningful use requirements included secure messaging, the ability to access and download electronic information, reminders sent for preventative and follow-up care, and general education materials.

These are all very basic tasks, but the parallel consumer experiences are incredibly user friendly, fast and intuitive. The key point to make is that the majority of patients really only need one of those criteria met for patient portals … speed. If patients can get what they need quickly, they are often satisfied. It’s not a social network, it’s a tool, so building patient portals with speed in mind is key to driving the patient engagement percentages required to meet the meaningful use standards. Given that so many of these processes are document heavy, streamlining the document viewing process is a key piece of the pie.

That document viewing part of the puzzle centers on the fact that patients benefit if only one method is needed to view the multitude of documents used in the healthcare realm. Records, prescriptions, X-rays and charts; the list goes on and on, not to mention the different digital formats in which the documents are often stored. Add to that the complexities involved when different organizations have different approaches to creating and storing these documents and the potential for complications and problems starts piling up quickly. Unfortunately, the place where all of these complexities converge is the patient. Portals need to be able to handle all of these document types with ease and again, quickly. HTML5 technology is a huge boost to this process as it enables browser-based document viewers to be easily integrated into patient portals. This means that any patient with an Internet connection and a standard browser can easily access any of their documents. There is no need for additional software downloads, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat or even an image viewer, which is often the last straw for patients before giving up on the system completely.

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Use of Patient Portals Requires Attracting and Incentivizing Your Target Population

Simon Wieczner
Simon Wieczner

Guest post by Simon Wieczner, president and CEO, Snowbound Software.

One of the quite enlightened (though likely also overwhelming) healthcare initiatives directed at making healthcare more transparent and understandable is the Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record (EHR) incentive program. This is an act that forces all healthcare providers servicing Medicare and Medicaid patients, and by extension pretty much every patient, to use or expand their EHR systems for a large set of requirements, including making their notes, prescriptions, test results, diagnostic images and additional information all available to their patients on a web-based portal. And, unlike many other regulations that have no enforcement, this act not only requires that providers make these services available to their patients, it also measures and compensates providers on what percentage of their patients actually use said services.

As we all know, however, leading a horse to water is not enough. One of the most important and critical factors that all providers are facing is how to make their patients actually use these portals. Studies already indicate that a large percentage of the public wants more complete access to their medical records and doctor’s instructions electronically, via the web. It also makes sense that access to more complete information regarding your health status increases the odds that you’ll do what is necessary to do to get better.

The good news: We have technology to make that available. Unfortunately, it’s not working as well as it should.

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