The Cost of Patient Portal Development: Key Features and Tips For Patient Engagement

By Andrei Klubnikin, content management team lead, ITRex.

Although the amount of US healthcare organizations that utilize patient portal software increased from 32% in 2014 to 90% in early 2019, less than a quarter of patients are willing to use the tools to schedule an appointment with a physician, view medical data and get tips for chronic disease self-management.

Patients’ ambivalence towards the technology can be largely attributed to healthcare data interoperability issues and administrative barriers to obtaining access to medical records. Furthermore, most patients still live under the paradigm of encounter-based medicine and perceive medical portals as useful only around the time of a physician office visit.

In an attempt to boost patient portal engagement and usage, medical professionals add multiple functions to healthcare software solutions. In this article, we will review patient portal features essential to engage the target audience and provide approximate patient portal development cost estimates.

Must-have Patient Portal Features as Reported by Healthcare Providers

In a nutshell, a patient portal is the user-facing component of an electronic health record (EHR) solution, which is intended to simplify patients’ access to medical data — i.e., physician notes, laboratory results, billing information, — and drive patient participation.

According to CHiME 2018 Healthcare’s Most Wired survey, the majority of healthcare facilities — with the exception of rural and critical access hospitals — have already incorporated robust communication, mobile and convenience capabilities into patient portal software. The reported enhancements include live chat enabling patients to directly contact care team and billing staff, automatic prescription refills, appointment scheduling and personal health data management. Additionally, 90% of respondents offer some form of telehealth services and take the device-agnostic approach to portal design to improve user experience on mobile devices.

Technology-wise, a successful deployment of these functions requires seamless integration with EHR software, as well as the implementation of advanced querying algorithms on the database management level.

According to Zakhar Bessarab, head of the web development unit at R-Style Lab, the optimum technology stack for the web components of patient portal software would list a flexible PHP framework (preferably Laravel or Symfony), MySQL/NoSQL database, Node.js WebSocket API supporting the live chat functionality, Go- or Python-based microframework enabling secure integration with an EHR solution and a JavaScript framework — preferrably Angular or React — for effective data visualization.

As a company with a string of successful healthcare IT projects under our belt, we compiled our own list of indispensable patient portal features which would help you fast-track your Digital Transformation initiatives and engage users.

What are they and how much would it cost your company to implement them?

Interfacing with EHR Software

Often regarded as the cornerstone of patient portal development, the integration with electronic health records ensures online access to medical information, including after-visit summaries, laboratory test results, medical images and clinical notes. Optionally, healthcare providers may take a step towards a deeper integration with hospital software and allow patients to self-manage the information regarding medication intake, allergies and immunization and upload files, which would be automatically added to their personal health records.

Appointment Scheduling

An appointment scheduler should feature a built-in notification system to alert patients on upcoming meetings via SMS and email and provide the options to fill out pre-visit forms and request referrals. The desirable functionality of an appointment scheduling module also includes the ability to set consultations with more than one physician using a convenient drop-down menu.

Electronic Billing

Leveraged through secure third-party payment gateways, such as Stripe or PayPal, the eBilling feature enables care providers to seek reimbursements in a transparent way, split expenses between insurance companies and individuals and allow patients to pay bills online.

Medication Refill Function

The automatic prescription refill function could assist healthcare providers in solving the medication non-adherence problem, which causes 125 thousand deaths annually in the USA alone. Here, additional functionality may include the integration with pharmacy software and connected medication dispensing equipment.

Secure Messaging

Besides real-time communication with hospital team and other specialists involved in care delivery, a live chat with file sharing capabilities can facilitate remote diagnosis and consultations for patients with both minor issues and chronic conditions.

Security Enhancements

Twenty-five percentof patients who do not use portals express concerns about medical data security and privacy. According to Zakhar, the implementation of data encryption protocols (SSL, TLS), role-based access authentication, biometrics and other measures required to secure sensitive data and ensure compliance (CMS, HIPAA, HL7, PACS, DICOM) will amount to 10% to 20% of all patient portal development efforts.

Education Materials Section

Designed to replace printed supplementary materials promoting healthy habits and effective chronic condition management, the educational section of a patient portal allows physicians to develop personalized outreach campaigns and unlock the value of technology-assisted population health management.

How Much does It Cost to Develop a Custom Patient Portal Solution?

Although patient portal software development costs can only be assessed on a case-by-case basis, a comprehensive solution which is merged into a hospital IT infrastructure and enhanced with all the features listed above would cost you anything between $100,000 and $140,000.

Last but not least, there are expenses associated with the development of a custom content management system which supports various operational and service tasks, including content moderation and alert messaging; the functionality would increase the estimate by 20% to 30%.

To reduce portal development costs and ensure data security, you should entrust your project to a reliable portal development company.

Greater patient portal adoption correlates with hospital revenues and allows care providers automate tasks that were previously performed manually — i.e., patient consultations, gathering patient feedback, scheduling visits and sharing payment information. To foster physician-patient collaboration, however, it is necessary to promote your portal. The are a few steps you can take in this direction, including targeted email campaigns, loyalty programs and personal assistance with user profile configuration.

Either way, the decision to build a medical portal from the ground up or customize a 3rd-party product should be based on a patient satisfaction survey aimed at defining the optimum portal feature set and implementation strategy.

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