Poor usability drives replacement patient portal market

Vendors that have invested in necessary R&D will see the biggest payoff in the replacement portal market.
By Amanda Guerrero
03:29 PM

Lured by Meaningful Use incentive dollars, many healthcare organizations have found themselves implementing patient portal solutions based on criteria that didn’t take the patient experience into account. Instead, these practices and hospitals sought the lowest cost, easiest-to-implement solution without giving a thought to the larger implications of their portal choice.

In most cases, this decision meant using the patient portal that was offered with their EHR. While this solution may have served its purpose for meeting Meaningful Use, especially the simple attestation process for Stage 1, most organizations did not consider the following question: “What if my patients, who are used to functioning online services like online banking, actually use the portal?”

Healthcare providers are now finding themselves with a complaining patient population and an inadequate portal solution that is incapable of delivering sustainable value to the organization in the long-term. In some cases, this is happening less than a year after the initial portal investment. Because of this, the patient portal replacement market is taking off.

A bad portal drives change (but a bad EHR doesn’t)

A few providers bemoaning EHR software functionality may not have been enough for an organization to undertake the complex job of switching EHR vendors. But the patient portal market is different, in that it is highly patient-driven. In fact, one of the main factors pushing hospitals and practices to replace their patient portals is the inability of current solutions to deliver a positive patient experience for even the most basic patient portal functions.

“We’re now seeing health organizations seeking a second replacement patient portal, just a few years after having implemented their first,” said John Deutsch, founder of Bridge Patient Portal. “This is something we never saw in the EHR software market.”

While many systems easily fulfill Meaningful Use requirements, their user interfaces are not adequately tested and core functionality is missing. So as soon as patients actually start using the portal, complaints start coming in. When it comes to online healthcare portals, the most common grievances from patients typically include:

  • Core features that simply do not work;
  • Platforms that are not mobile-friendly;
  • Platforms that only work on some browsers (e.g. outdated versions of IE);
  • Lack of pertinent data from the EHR;
  • In an example patient population of 100,000, if even 1 percent of patients actively use the portal and find issues with it, that’s 1,000 users that are complaining – and that is enough to drive change.

Smaller patient portal companies becoming big market players

It pays to keep patients happy, and many portal vendors just aren’t cutting it. While this is mostly the result of software vendors focusing solely on Meaningful Use requirements, it also has to do with companies not investing sufficient resources in research and development (R&D), and in simply making band-aid fixes instead of substantial product improvements.

It is no secret that EHR companies are tight on R&D resources, and very few put patient portals as a priority. In fact, of the hundreds of EHR companies in the market, only a handful have adequately invested in the development of a patient portal. As a result, EHR companies are struggling to meet their clients’ patient portal needs.

As happened with the EHR replacement market, inferior products are quickly weeded out. Similarly, smaller up-and-coming patient portal companies are getting acquired by major EHR vendors – oftentimes, in order to replace the EHR’s own underperforming patient portal product.

Ultimately, vendors that have invested in necessary R&D will see the biggest payoff in the replacement portal market. Epic, Greenway Health, eClinicalWorks and athenahealth all succeeded in the replacement EHR market and have established themselves as dominant industry players. Patient portal companies who take the same approach will likely see similar results, as health organizations are starting to look past Meaningful Use and towards technologies that provide more innovative patient engagement and care management solutions.