Consumer surveys conducted in 2015 discovered that only 15% of patients have access to email with their physicians and just over 20% have access to digital appointment scheduling. In a modern world where almost all your day-to-day tasks are digitized, shouldn’t managing personal healthcare be too? Some may argue that it’s necessary and some may say doctor-patient relationships should remain in the doctor consulting rooms.
Patient portals have since the 1990s help bridge the online gap between doctors and the public they serve. Kaiser Permanente, Beth Israel Medical Foundation, Children’s Hospital Boston, Veterans Affairs Administration, Geisinger Clinic are some of the earlier adopters of these online health management platforms. In many ways these websites have digitized patient care by providing patients convenient online access to health information including medical records, doctor’s visits, and prescriptions.
The Pros and Cons
There are many benefits of online patient care portals. According to the Health Affairs blog, Lessons From More Than A Decade In Patient Portals, patients using these portals say they feel they have more control over their medical condition, have better access to information and to the professionals they need to consult. Online healthcare platforms also increase confidence in patients and help them feel less intimidated by and closer to their healthcare providers.
Secure email correspondence between doctors and their patients has enabled patients to make informed decisions and better manage their chronic conditions like glycemic (HbA1c), cholesterol, and hypertension more effectively and makes communicating with their health care teams a lot easier. This can ultimately lead to a healthier and prolonged life.
Implementing online patient care portals can also benefit business by increasing practice efficiency and patient retention.
However, there is also a downside. Accessibility issues such as internet and computer access among older and lower class patients is keeping patient portals from fulfilling the vital role it can play in personal healthcare management.
There is also the risk of misunderstanding messages, says Dr. Bierstock in an article on the Points Group website. He is also concerned with privacy and the lack of guarantee that no one other than the user and his physician will read the online messages exchanged between the two parties. Other Than for the administrative side to patient portals like appointment scheduling and filling prescriptions, Dr. Bierstock, is convinced this is not the best way to practice medicine.
The next few years will be critical.
The next few years will prove critical to the success of online based healthcare but Josh Gray, Vice president of AthenaResearch at AthenaHealth, is confident the industry will see a significant increase in patient portal use. In an interview with Becker’s Health & CIO Review, he says patients are increasingly demanding online health data and health access to their health care teams. And in providers will need to satisfy this need to remain competitive.
And moving forward, what can patient and doctors do from their side to implement the use of patient portals?
Empowerment is key. Gray says patient portals should have built-in educational resources to empower users and help them take control over their health. He is confident that patients will be healthier if healthcare providers “proactively inform patients about wellness services and follow up if they miss appointments or don’t fill prescriptions”.
The needs of older patients who are not as technologically advanced as the younger generation need to be considered. Website developers building these portals need to design features with usability in mind to ensure users across the board, patients and doctors, can easily adapt to and implement them. It is also important to ensure users of the high privacy protocols patient portals have to adhere to.
Gray is also of the opinion that the biggest obstacle to overcome is provider commitment. Implementation of patient portals start with the doctor and not the patient. If healthcare providers are confident in online healthcare then patients will be too. Patients should also be more trusting and open to change.