How today’s technology is shaping healthcare’s future

May 25, 2017
By Perry Price, CEO/President and Co-founder, Revation Systems

As industries across the nation continue to digitally transform, healthcare is certainly no exception—and, in many ways, is primed for profound reinvention. Recent technological innovations, such as smart medical devices, electronic health records (EHRs), and online patient portals, have been major players in the industry’s evolution toward virtualizing the overall patient experience. With these newfound technological capabilities, which allow patients and providers to communicate more efficiently and effectively across a wide variety of digital platforms, the delivery of healthcare is being reimagined and its future seems to shift with every new development.

Although there are many innovations currently impacting healthcare’s digital transformation, one of the most significant is the creation of patient portals. Online portals shift the landscape of digital healthcare by offering benefits to all parties involved. However, obstacles still remain regarding security and patient utilization of the platform. So what is it about this technology and its latest advancements that are so key to healthcare’s future? And how can providers address the current obstacles in a way that continues to reinvent the industry’s approach to patient engagement?

Courtesy of Revation Systems

The why behind patient portals influence

With more efficient and effective patient-provider communication and improved accessibility to personal health information, online portals offer an array of benefits—with increased convenience being the most significant for patients and providers alike. Along with unmitigated convenience, another main benefit that patient portals offer is an enhanced level of engagement from those who utilize them. This is important because increased patient engagement results in better patient outcomes, which is certainly the overall goal of healthcare.

For example, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology found that engaged patients often have the knowledge, skills, ability, and willingness to manage their health better and act on provider recommendations. Additionally, a recent study by the Journal of Medical Internet Research found that a high rate of patient satisfaction tends to coincide with the use of online portals, which enable patients to take an active role in their medical decision-making. So not only do portals impact the level of patient engagement—resulting in a sense of responsibility to partake in one’s own healthcare plan—they also cause a significant increase in effective care, which drastically improves patient outcomes.

The benefits of patient portals (aka the “how”)

One reason patient portals generate better outcomes stems from the significant amount of time saved. For instance, portals allow patients access to pertinent medical documents and forms that can be reviewed or completed prior to visiting a provider in the office, which allows more time for the actual visit to occur and for more effective care to be delivered. In addition to maximizing time during in-clinic visits, patient portals can also largely benefit chronic care patients in better managing their care through the enhanced level of communication with providers as well as a newfound ease and convenience in it—thereby often reducing readmissions related to the condition.

While improvements in patient engagement and patient outcomes are tangible and important benefits of patient portals, the reduction of cost is yet another major benefit. To this effect, the National Institutes of Health recently found that the use of patient portals improved functional status and reduced high-cost healthcare utilization in patients with chronic conditions. When patients are more engaged in and connected to their care, the likelihood of readmissions is dramatically reduced as the use of patient portals leads to stricter adherence to medication and follow-up with providers. In addition to reduced cost due to lower readmission rates, the use of patient portals also reduces the cost for providers by reducing the number of missed appointments and need for reminder phone calls.

In view of all this, it’s no wonder that (as of 2015) 87% of eligible healthcare professionals offered patients access to their personal health information electronically, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). However, despite this overwhelming adoption by providers and the numerous benefits for patients who utilize portal technology, the GAO found that only 15-30% of patients are taking advantage of this offering—highlighting important obstacles still facing the widespread use of telehealth services, including patient portals.

Challenges to using patient portals

Although patient portals can offer a wide variety of benefits for all parties in the healthcare system, there remain several challenges to their deployment. The security of patient portals is perhaps one of the greatest challenges. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights, more than 16 million healthcare records were compromised in 2016. Although this is a significant drop from 2015, which posted an all-time high of 113 million accessed records, the number of data breaches is one of the main arguments against the implementation of patient portals for the remaining providers not currently offering them.

As highlighted by the GAO’s study, another challenge is underutilization by patients who have been offered the use of portals. Providers in rural areas with high poverty levels as well as practices with more seniors or fewer than 50 practice members specifically saw lower use of patient portals, according to the report. Additionally, when compared to other industry “portals,” the technology still has much room for improvement. In some scenarios, patient portals often end up being utilized primarily as a recordkeeping tool, rather than a patient engagement tool, thereby falling short of the full potential they can have on patient engagement. With digital transformation on the horizon, however, advancements in patient portal technologies are quickly appearing and sending a strong message to the healthcare community that they are here to stay.

The future of healthcare and patient portal technology

Because of the numerous benefits, patient portals are clearly growing in popularity and use—and as related innovation continues to evolve, so does the user design. Mobile-friendly engagement, for example, is increasing, meaning that portals are now accessible to patients on-the-go via smartphone or tablet. Additionally, although not fully rolled out into production yet, the concept of interoperable patient portals is also growing in popularity. These portals would allow patients to access all of their health information, even from different healthcare facilities or providers, in a single place—eliminating the need to view different portals from separate providers.

As digital transformation continues to spread across all industries, healthcare in particular will continue to see increased use in and better design for patient portals. The increased efficiency and effectiveness of patient-provider communications, as well as the increased levels of patient engagement, are just a few of the numerous reasons why patient portals will help launch the future of healthcare technology and create a higher standard of care for the future.

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