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What Works - And What Doesn't - In a Patient Portal

There’s a lively discussion going on about patient portals in the HIMSS LinkedIn group. The question, “What should be in a patient portal?” has generated 80 detailed and thoughtful comments as of this writing.

HIMSS Group Weighs In

Here are some of suggestions for portal enhancements made by HIMSS group members:

“The ability for patients to view trended data will … be helpful, for example how vital signs, blood glucose, etc. have changed over time.”

"HCP-mediated infographic personalized patient education with a video and audio recording of the consult should be in a patient portal.”

“I want a 3D hologram of myself depicting the present status of my systems and subsystems.”

“I am of the opinion that the Patient Portal work as a lens into my entire chart, all of it. How can patients become more educated and engaged without first being able to see their chart's documentation?”

So what should be in a patient portal? I decided to find out firsthand.

Activating the patient portal

When I checked in for my annual physical a few weeks ago, the receptionist asked me if I’d like to signup for the patient portal. I said yes, and by the time I got home there was an email from my primary care physician’s practice. Today, I finally got around to activating my portal account, and watched as an animation showed my records flying through the air to a destination in the cloud (a literal cloud).

Red flag on lab report gets my attention

The first thing I noticed, after watching the introductory video, is that there were a number of updates. I reviewed them one by one – my vitals, allergies, medications, immunizations, lab results, notes and more. One lab result highlighted in red had a “high” rather than “normal” rating. That caught my eye so I sent my primary care physician a secure message to ask about it. I haven’t gotten a response yet, and I wonder if I’ll get an email letting me know there’s a secure email for me view on the portal? Or will I have to remember to login and check?

Limitations make the portal less useful

I checked to see what’s under the “My Info” tab and clicked on “Providers.” My primary care physician is there, and another specialist I no longer see. Since my other doctors are not in the group, they’re not listed, and there’s no way to add them.

I clicked on “Demographics” and there’s a field for preferred pharmacy. My zip code is pre-populated, but my pharmacy, a nearby CVS, isn’t in the list and there’s no way to add it.

No bells and whistles, but still engaging

There’s nothing cool about the portal. It doesn’t look like I can do things like sync my FitBit or My Fitness Pal. There aren’t any flashy graphics or colorful charts. No videos, infographics or holograms. The experience was somewhat interesting, and a maybe a little mundane.

But did it achieve the objective of making me feel more engaged as a patient? In spite of the limitations and the absence of bells and whistles, it did. I don’t like seeing that I’ve gained seven pounds over the past couple of years, or that one of my labs is slightly elevated. I like that I can send a quick email to my doctor and hopefully she’ll send me a quick reply.

What makes the perfect portal? Fixes to some of the limitations I encountered would be my top picks. How about you?

Do you think patient portals are just to check the meaningful use box, or can they help patients become truly engaged in managing their health?

Categories: Consumer Engagement, Health Care IT


Jane Weber Brubaker
Guest Blogger

Jane Weber Brubaker is editor of eHealthcare Strategy & Trends and principal at Ask Jane Communications. She writes about issues ranging from evolving care delivery models and emerging technologies to patient engagement strategies and population health. Jane has interviewed top leaders from world-class organizations including Cleveland Clinic, Intermountain Healthcare and Dignity Health. Prior to launching her health care communications consultancy, she managed marketing and outreach for Connecticut Community Care, Inc., a nonprofit home and community-based care management organization serving older adults and individuals with disabilities. Jane holds BA and MA degrees in special education, an MBA in marketing, and has a certificate in Health IT.

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