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Patient portal technology won't disappear, is important to telehealth

Patient portal technology is not dead. In fact, it is important to telehealth, some experts say. Another expert says that it will simply move over to mobile.

Patient portal technology has often been lauded as an important tool to create interoperability, give patients access to their own health data and, therefore, engage them in their own health. However, the technology hasn't been perfect with some experts claiming the technology complicates the creation of interoperability and raises concerns around HIPAA compliance. And one study found that patient portals may contribute to health disparities.

Some experts have also described patient portal technology as clunky and not user-friendly. Not to mention, it requires patients to keep track of yet another username and password.

But some experts believe patient portal technology is critical to the success of telehealth and that patient portals will simply move over to mobile.

Are patient portals becoming obsolete and the way of the past now? Have we moved beyond them?

Ed McCallister, senior vice president and CIO at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pennsylvania: I think it's mobile first. People want to think they want the experience. I don't think portals, in some instances, they won't completely go away, but I do think that the trend is toward the mobile device and less toward the portal. If you can do it on your device, I mean, we walk around, we're in the mobile realm.

And the wearable devices and, you know, all the things that happen outside of a portal, you know your steps, in a traditional way, you would go in and you'd log your steps into your portal, right? But because we're connected, because of devices, because of the mobile first and all these mobile approaches, I think that you're going to see the move to mobile accelerate more than it has even in the past years.

Neil Evans, chief officer of the Office of Connected Care at the Veterans Health Administration in Washington, D.C.: I know that patient portals are not necessarily always the most popular and people complain about portals, every healthcare system has their own portal, et cetera, but I do think that patient portals are actually very important tools for healthcare systems to engage with patients and just to give you a sense for scale; ten years ago, or twelve years ago when we launched the portal we had had zero medication refills through the portal and as of last month we now have 103 million medication refills in the process of veterans through our portal. We've had 50 million secure messaging exchanges back and forth between patients and their healthcare teams and this started out as an effort where we said we were just trying to put trusted and vetted health information online. Our portal didn't start out as a transactional portal, it started out as a basic website, trusted health information, and has grown in an iterative fashion.

John Jenkins, chief clinical officer of connected care at Cone Health in Greensboro, North Carolina: I would echo the development of patient portal being key. Patient portal has several key elements in it that are really essential ... that are absolutely critical to an effective telehealth program. One of the first things is access to the EHR. The second is a link to the team, the care team. And the third is that it becomes the patient's access into the system, their view of the system, their view of their records, and the way they could communicate back and forth with the care team. So, probably the most successful thing that we launched so far is our ... e-Visit program and with that we now cover about 24 conditions, it's staffed from 8 am to 8 pm ... our turnaround time is less than an hour; that's our service guarantee and it is a huge patient satisfier. ... We started testing in our employee population to get the bugs out of the system and then spread it to our individuals, our consumers in our network and that's been very very very critical for success of our telehealth program.

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