Your healthcare information is going digital.

Provider and patient portals – secure websites that give access to medical information – now let you easily engage in a person’s healthcare related activity. It gives healthcare providers the ability to connect with the patients in a personalized way, and for patients to be aware and accountable of their own health progress.

More and more healthcare providers are beginning to offer patient portals.  The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reports that 64 percent of hospitals had some type of online patient portal in 2014. Another survey found that, in 2016, 58 percent of health-care providers were offering portals.

These online tools are supposed to give people more control over their medical data and allow for easier access while lowering costs. Since technology is a fairly new healthcare implementation, they aren’t without issues. Here, a look at some of the benefits — and the downsides — of digital provider and/or patient portals.

The pros:

Easier access to information

Portals give care providers and patients an easy access to information without having to call or wait for a response. The only thing you need is a computer or mobile device and an internet connection. 24-hour access is important for flexibility and most portals allow patients to check a variety of data ranging from medication adherence to various test results.

Better patient engagement

When patients have the ability to check their health activity, they become more engaged in their own health care. They’re more likely to ask questions and become active participants in the healthcare system. In turn, when care providers have visibility of their patient’s activity, they are equipped with actionable insights that will allow for timely interventions to get the patient back on track.

Some digital portals are able to email or text alerts or reminders. They can notify appointment reminders or dosing regimen reminders when to take their medications. This increases patient engagement and can lead to improved overall health.

More time and lower costs for health-care providers

Provider/Patient portals can be a big time-saver. Whereas a dedicated team would otherwise need to make phone calls and book appointments, that manpower can now be redirected elsewhere. The same goes for piles of paperwork: Portals can help eliminate these administrative tasks and put it all online, allowing health-care providers to focus instead on delivering better care at a lower cost. 

The Cons:

Lack of use and adoption

Despite more healthcare providers offering digital portals, it’s still difficult to convince patients to sign up or actually use them. Some people aren’t comfortable with new technology. There’s also a segment of the population that forgets to use the portals and falls back on traditional phone calls.

One survey found that many people who don’t use patient portals simply don’t know that they exist in the first place. There’s also a generation gap at play here: Millennials are more likely to use portals than baby boomers.

Security concerns

Security concerns are on the top to patient’s list of reason when asked why they don’t want to use digital portals. A quick perusal of the top hacking targets online makes it easy to understand why: According to a study from Experian, health care has become the top target for hackers.

Privacy concerns

Patients are also concerned about their privacy. Some are anxious about the thought of a “Big Brother” situation especially with any of their medical information.

Key considerations to leveraging technology such as portals

Healthcare providers that are considering leveraging technology have a broad array of portals to choose from. With various technologies out in the market today, it is important to consider which critical features your portal must have to maximize success.

  • Provides comprehensive, actionable insights – The most effective solutions not only track and gather data on medication access, but also organize it in a way that maximizes visibility and facilitates action for support team members. The portal should be flexible enough to aggregate and display behavioral data by multiple views/categories (i.e. individual patient, geography, therapy class). Detailed dosing logs should be viewable in graph or list form. Communications and notes (created by support team members) should be automatically added to the analytics as additional insight. For reporting flexibility, consider a tool that integrates automatically with Excel, Word, and PDF.
  • Customizable – The portal must be highly configurable to meet the unique needs of your organization and patient population. For example, you should be able to set and adjust different patient reminder alert preferences, including visual and audio reminders. Support teams should also be able to customize how they receive alerts on their end, whether it be by email, text, etc. A configurable, rules based triage notification/escalation system facilitates timely follow-up and intervention.
  • Highly secure – Technologies used for these programs typically send patient information through the cloud. Be sure that your data is powered by a robust and protected technology system that is HIPPA compliant and validated.