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Are Pet-Quality Portals Better for Patient Engagement?

By Vera Gruessner

- The healthcare industry is focused on implementing health IT systems and boosting patient engagement with their own health and wellness in order to meet the objectives and stages of the meaningful use requirements under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.

Patient Portals in Healthcare

A key aspect of raising patient engagement is providing patient portals and secure messaging tools that offer a way for a patient to view their medical records, request prescriptions and medication refills, access lab results, and communicate with their healthcare provider.

José Pagán, director of the Center for Health Innovation at the New York Academy of Medicine, wrote in a Health Affairs blog how his pets also have portals in which their health information is stored. In fact, Pagán claims that designers of human patient portals may benefit from viewing and examining pet portals, which evidently have more useful features than that of a human health portal. Pagán goes on to describe how his pets’ portals look like.

“The web portal login page is modern-looking and professionally designed, with large, readable fonts and uncluttered information about the health of my pets. I can even attach their pictures to facilitate portal use. The opening page is easy to navigate and includes a dashboard that, for example, allows pet owners to track changes in the weight of their pet(s) over time,” he wrote.

“In contrast, the web portal for my medical records seems outdated and cluttered. For example, the welcome page has a hyperlink to ‘Schedule appointments for your current health reminders.’ That link then takes me to a list of preventive care reminders for procedures such as ‘Hepatitis C Screen Fpa’ and ‘Colonoscopy,’ but also with a status column stating that these procedures are not due for several years. It is unclear to me why reminders several years before screening tests are actually due may be informative or useful.”

Initially, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) – in order to push forward patient engagement – required healthcare providers to ensure at least 5 percent of their patient base viewed their digital medical records via a patient portal, but currently the latest Stage 2 Meaningful Use proposed ruling from CMS requires that only one patient views this information through a portal.

This new proposal is rather disadvantageous, as currently only about one-third of patients are offered the ability to view this information and less than half of those offered access their patient portal at least once.

One positive about patient portals that the director of the Center for Health Innovation mentioned is the secure messaging platform that allows patients to communicate with their doctors. Essentially, one of the potential issues with how pet portals may be more effective than human ones is the regulatory and legal barriers including privacy concerns that prevent patients from seeing certain information.

Even though these portals may not be designed perfectly, the tools are still useful for increasing patient engagement with health and wellness. In Hospital Impact, Tom Scaletta, M.D., medical director of patient experience and the emergency department chair at Edward-Elmhurst Healthcare, describes how users and their families appreciate patient engagement systems that offer a method for providing satisfaction feedback as well as a way to monitor a patient’s overall health.

“Automated patient follow-up is a simple, effective and cost-efficient solution for achieving immediate and real-time feedback about care and satisfaction,” Scaletta wrote. “But its impact goes beyond just the clinical benefits – it can also help improve the revenue cycle. In today's age of healthcare consumerism and its subsequent focus on financials, the question is no longer whether to invest in digital patient engagement. The question is: How much will it continue to cost your organization if you don't?”

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