Hospitals, Health Systems And Clinics Adding Portals, But Consumers Not Synched Up

Posted on December 17, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

With Meaningful Use Stage 2 requiring that 5 percent of patients use them, a growing number of health systems, hospitals and clinics have rolled out patient portals, according to a recent study by KLAS. In fact, 57 percent of providers now offer a portal, typically connected to their enterprise EMR, KLAS found.

The thing is, somehow these efforts aren’t reaching consumers. In a new Wolters Kluwer Health survey of 1,000 consumers, only 19 percent said that they have access to a personal health record.

It’s not that patients don’t want to be engaged in their health — 80 percent of respondents said greater control of healthcare is positive — but it seems that they either don’t like or don’t know how to find the portals available to them.

Ultimately, the broad mass of consumers simply don’t seem to see a crying need to use portals as of yet. Seventy-six percent of respondents to the Wolters Kluwer survey said that they have the information and tools they need to manage basic healthcare functions such as choosing providers and researching treatment options, clearly dwarfing the number who care to look at their own patient data.

That being said, there’s a small (but I’d argue, growing) minority of patients who do take connections with providers seriously. Nineteen percent of respondents told researchers that the ability to communicate via e-mail with doctors and nurses and schedule appointments online was an important factor in choosing a medical practice. In other words, there’s clearly a wired contingent out there which would probably respond well to a truly useful portal.

How can hospitals and clinics get patients engaged in PHR use?  My gut instinct is that consumers won’t give a hoot about PHRs until they become a tool that’s part of their medical or hospital visit. If doctors work with a PHR, turning the visit into a collaboration, patients will be motivated to follow up and review what they’ve learned.

I guess what I’m saying is that we should start by getting doctors engaged with PHRs as a means of getting patients involved. If they do that, PHRs will go from being some Web site to a valuable tool for sharing care information.  If not, don’t expect the number of PHR-interested consumers to climb anytime soon.