Today, to provide high-quality medical services it's often not enough to give patients treatment and prescriptions, and patient care is more than hospital stay or doctors' appointment. Healthcare becomes more accessible, inclusive, and mobile. An emphasis shifted from reactive clinical practices to preventive methods and early diagnosis. Countries that want to improve the well-being of their citizen incentivize digital transformation. They encourage hospitals to create online means for patients to manage their health, address their illnesses, and know more about their bodies.
The two most wanted features patients want to see in a hospital, clinic, or another healthcare organization is appointment scheduling and a place to access their health data. These, and other features, are often part of a patient portal.
Common features of an online patient portal
So what is an online patient portal? It's a secure site where patients access information about their health, update insurance, contacts, and make their payments at any time. 2020 has shown that it's important for patients to be able to ask the doctor a question online: to consult on symptoms or general well-being. Plus, the patient portal is a perfect place to talk about new health threats, viruses, seasonal recommendations, and so on.
As an example, Mayo Clinics' patient portal rolled out few updates for their portal when the pandemic started. Apart from health information and usual symptom checker info, they've started offering COVID-specific surveys for self-assessment and virtual visits right on their platform. That virtual environment works not only as a place for safe contact with patients in doctors' care but can be used as a source of raw data (with users' consent, of course.) Raw data helps data scientists in hospitals grasp the situation around arising health crises, build forecasts on its basis, and extrapolate the results on local population trends. It allows preparing hospitals' employees for a new wave of diseases.
On the portal, patients create a user profile. There, they can access a calendar that shows free slots in specialists they want to visits (or, in this year, call) and send a request for their appointments: usually, with symptom specifications, compiled via chatbot or described in an attached message. If the doctor has no free slots, the system (or an administrator on the other side of the deal, in small clinics it can work that way) offers to consider another specialist or other appointment time.
Patients portals are one of the most popular types of healthcare software. Customer demand says they must be cross-platform (read: accessible on mobile) and secure (read: how to build HIPAA compliant applications and protect your patients' data from cyberattacks.)
Statistics say, 85% of patients in clinics use portals for quick access to test results, 62% - to schedule appointments with the attending physician, to obtain prescriptions for drugs, and to apply for sick leave.
The Elsan portal in France is #2 among private healthcare operator, and users love it because they can choose among clinics, not physicians. because it allows them to choose not only attending physicians but also clinics. There is also a popular German portal Helios, where users can schedule appointments and check their test results.
So, the most common features for patients are:
Access to medical history
Scheduling appointments + Clinicians' calendar
Symptom checker (chatbot, symptom-checking tests, educational materials)
Receiving prescription and requesting refills
A quick chat with doctors (video- or text-based)
Access to tests results
Available on mobile
Assigning insurance/viewing bills/making payments
For doctors, it's
Communication with other departments
Smooth integration with EHRs
The basic functionality of the patient portal is very simple. You can develop such an app in-house or contact us, as our software developers would love to build more digital healthcare products. What are the challenges hospitals may face when adopting/developing it?
Possible challenges you may face when creating a patient portal
Adoption issues. Software adoption is a super costly process for hospitals, and often there's no time to adapt to the technology properly. Its usage isn't integrated with clinical workflows, there's no time to ensure proper training for clinical teams who will be using it, and so on.
Solution: UX research is a thing that will help here: develop software that will be comfortable to use for all users, and then it will be smoothly adopted. Read more on UX research and how to conduct it when you build products for healthcare.
Low engagement on doctors' and patients' sides. The existence and value of the patient portal should be properly communicated. If it isn't, no people would come there. Right now, doctors only start to recommend using different apps - digital therapeutics - for their patients' to use, so it's better if they were interested in promoting a patient portal, too.
Solution: UX research, as well. On the patients' side, integrated with third-party remote-monitoring or self-testing services could also help. For instance, Health Vault allows saving results of simple exams like at-home measurements of blood pressure and glucose levels into patients' portal. In that way, patients become active agents of treatment, they're helping, and they're interested in what's happening. Same works with wearables adoption: although all third-parties' products should be HIPAA-compliant and very secure to use within hospitals.
Lack of interoperability. One of the most vulnerable places in the treatment process is communication between different departments. If a patient has a complex disease that requires several doctors’ participation, a consultation is usually necessary; and the patient's medical history is often duplicated or incomplete within different departments. The patient's medical history can be kept in several departments.
Solution: Home Care Homebase has developed an application for medical personnel in which all examinations and treatment history are synchronized. Such a system is based on Active Directory guarantees data protection from unauthorized access, so doctors can access info relevant to their situation within different departments, but if, e.g. physiatrists want to see what's up with patients' blood analysis, they need to make a request and receive consent. Another solution is Infoworld-type: if patients receive X-ray tests, and their doctors can't interpret them, they engage a qualified radiologist through the solution.
In some countries, medical portals have become an essential key to health. For example, there is a single national portal covering about 70% of potential patients and 92% of doctors in Denmark. Using it, Physicians have access to patients' data and track their health status. All the necessary research is in one place. When they meet in clinics, the waiting/transition time (when patients explain their conditions) is almost non-existent.
No doubt, such portals are important. They simplify and reduce the medical care cost, they are good assistants to doctors and often invaluable for patients.
Features like remote monitoring become more and more widespread within patient portals. In the Netherlands, people install health sensors in homes of senior people or people who are sick. If their vitals twist beyond the normal range, clinicians receive an alarm. The Czech Republic also has a similar system. It's called Blue Light: if its motion sensors don't show movement for 10-12 hours, it sends a signal to the medical staff or family members’ phones.
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