New Research on Patient Portals: Is Your EMR the Safest Choice?

Gena CookEHR, Meaningful Use, Patient Engagement

There is a lot of news lately on the adoption of patient portals. And for good reason, the deadline for adopting and using a patient portal to meet Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements is 2014, which is quickly approaching.

Patient portal adoption and active use is accelerating dramatically across the U.S., driven by Stage 2 requirements. Stage 2 requires providers to adopt and use technology that allows patients to electronically view, download, and transmit electronic copies of their own medical records. Patient portals are the key technology that will help providers meet these requirements. In addition, providers that adopt patient portals will enjoy a competitive advantage, as patients increasingly demand convenient, 24/7 access to their financial and clinical information.

But Stage 2 and 2014 is just the start. There will be a growing demand for additional features and functions to support Accountable Care Organizations, alternative payment models, and the increasing demand from patients for health information technology.
It’s not just about buying a patient portal in the next 12 months to meet current requirements, it’s really about preparing for new age of healthcare delivery. “The need to fully engage patients as a member of the care team is fundamentally about encouraging individuals to become more involved with their healthcare, so they will be motivated to make behavioral changes that can positively impact their health status,” Frost & Sullivan connected health principal Analyst Nancy Fabozzi, said in a statement. “That need will only grow as the healthcare system moves towards accountable care and value-based reimbursement. The importance of this movement cannot be underestimated.”

It’s estimated that 50% of hospitals and 40% of U.S. physicians already have some patient portal technology, mostly acquired as a module from their EHR system. In 2012, KLAS research published a new study entitled Patient Portals 2012: The Path of Least Resistance, which demonstrated that many providers were choosing their EMR provided solutions in their quest to meet Meaningful Use with what they perceived to be the “safest” choice. Recently, KLAS research released a new report entitled, “Patient Portals 2013: On Track to Meet Meaningful Use?”. The report provides details on some patient portal’s performance related to meeting Stage 2 criteria, including patient engagement, ease and use and support. The new conventional wisdom may be that EMR provided solutions may not be enough, as many don’t have all the needed functionality yet to support Stage 2. “The HITECH Act that launched MU Stage 2 is clearly aiding the EMR vendors in this segment,” said report author and research director Mark Allphin. “However, there are advantages to looking outside your EMR. Many providers are still trying to determine which portal solution will best meet their needs, now and in the future as they continue to engage their patients on a deeper level.”

New research published last month from consulting firm Frost & Sullivan estimates that the patient portal market is expected to grow to nearly $900M by 2017, a 221% increase from the $279.8M in revenue that was earned in 2012 from hospitals and physicians. This is primarily due to the demand of providers and hospitals to have new technology systems to meet the growing patient engagement needs and requirements. The recent KLAS report provided data that many implemented providers were looking to leave their current solutions. In fact, a quarter of Intuit’s patient portal customers reported they plan to leave, which was three times higher than the market average. It has been heavily documented that many physicians are not happy with their EHR systems, and 17% of 17,000 surveyed reported that they are looking to switch systems in 2013. In the quest for digital health, it’s evident that many outdated systems are not meeting the current requirements and that this market is far from established and settled.

So how should a physician practice or hospital select a vendor to meet these new requirements in a market that continues to evolve so rapidly? Although there are no guarantees, my advice is to do your research. Understand each vendors solution, product roadmap, management team, and any other information you can gather to understand their future direction to understand if they will support you in this evolving market. You are looking for a partnership, not just a product. If you are already dis-satisfied with your EMR system, don’t buy their portal solution. That is just asking for more trouble and frustration. Talk to each vendor’s current customers and ask about training, support, implementation and most importantly, patient utilization. Patient utilization, invitations and onboarding are paramount, as Stage 2 requires that patients actually use the system. Implementing a patient portal provides an opportunity to improve your processes, reduce administrative burden and provide a tool for patients that will improve patient satisfaction and ultimately engage your patients in their care to improve the care model. To ensure the greatest success, make sure this is the lens you use to select your solution and partnership. Good Luck!