6 Core Patient Portal Features to Get More Patients on Board


Healthcare providers are moving forward with their digital initiatives, pursuing intranet development, implementing e-prescribing software, and deploying EHR systems and patient portals to enhance patient care, maximize staff efficiency, and improve the bottom line.

However, while medical professionals are largely enthusiastic about digital healthcare solutions, the disparity between the rate of clinical support and patient utilization of some of this software, patient portals in particular, is enormous. Even though patient self-service solutions have become ubiquitous in medical facilities nation-wide, over 62% of US hospitals report that their patient portal systems are used by less than a quarter of all patients.

Patients still don’t see enough value in patient portals, voicing concerns over the steep learning curve, lack of training, anxiety regarding data security and confidentiality, and other issues. Addressing these challenges is critical to encouraging patient buy-in and getting more patients involved in their health.

Since most medical facilities in the country already have patient portals in place, the next step to overcome barriers to their adoption is to expand these systems to deliver features that will get more patients involved.

A Friendly User Interface

A clunky and inconsistent user interface is a major stumbling block that makes it impossible for many patients to make it past the sign-up screen. Even if patients feel motivated to use a self-service portal, when they crash upon a counterintuitive UI, their initial enthusiasm quickly gives way to frustration and resignation.

Disappointing experience with a patient portal can discourage patients from any further attempts to use it in the future. For that reason, one of the first improvements to consider for any existing patient self-service system should be UX optimization. A skilled frontend development team can enhance the design and navigation of any patient portal to create a seamless user experience and keep patients involved.

An Effective Mobile App Combo

The smartphone market penetration in the U.S. exceeds 70%. The general shift toward mobile devices also impacts healthcare consumers, as they are increasingly engaging with their health using mobile tools.

To address this trend, nation-wide healthcare services suppliers such as UnitedHealthcare support patients with custom mobile patient portal solutions that make it possible for the users to take care of their health on the go. Smaller medical providers are also catching up, leveraging out-of-the-box apps and extending them to deliver patient self-service capabilities on mobile devices.

Digital Forms

Digital patient registration forms ease the registration workflow by offering a simple and time-efficient way for patients to fill out their details and consents before the first appointment.

By reducing patient wait time in medical facilities and enabling end-to-end secure control over the submitted data, digital forms are a simple method of encouraging patient communication. Online forms also benefit healthcare services suppliers by alleviating the front-desk burden, minimizing the likelihood of clinical errors, streamlining patient flow, and delivering a holistic view of a patient and their medical history.

Many available patient portals already support online registration; others can be easily extended with custom functionality or integrated with one of the available off-the-shelf solutions.

API Integration

While most patient portal solutions by default support integration with core EHR systems, by extending an open API, they can also connect to other third-party digital solutions and medical IoT devices, such as step counters, glucose monitors, or sleep trackers.

Considering the growing use of wearables by US consumers that’s more than tripled since 2014, open APIs become an instrumental feature of any patient portal.

When patients couple their portal profiles with e-health wearable devices, they can automatically upload and sync all their health data to gain a detailed insight into their health and well-being over time.

Thanks to real-time information flow between various tracking devices and health systems, physicians can regularly and easily review patient vitals to make informed diagnostic and treatment decisions.

Encrypted Messaging

Top patient portal solutions, like those of Nextech, MyChart, or Athena, embed secure messaging to offer an alternative to face-to-face medical appointments through asynchronous, direct communication with physicians.

This type of interaction can be of particular advantage to patients with chronic illnesses or mobility issues, and those living in remote areas. Because of the highly-sensitive nature of the data processed through patient portal systems and regulatory compliance requirements imposed on healthcare providers (HIPAA, to start with), all patient-doctor communication must be properly secured with data encryption.

Streamlined Payments

According to a report by TransUnion, 62% of patients say that knowing their healthcare expenses in advance impacts the likelihood of their pursuing care, while 68% of healthcare consumers fail to pay off their medical bill balances fully.

To resolve these concerns, comprehensive patient self-service solutions such as Experian Health feature a payment management component that supports a wide range of payment options, providing patients with greater transparency when it comes to managing health finances.

These features include e-payments, billing queries, insurance support, payment history and retrieval, and more. By extending these features, healthcare organizations can not only augment patient engagement and increase patient portal utilization but also monitor and manage patient collections to boost recovery rates.

Toward a More Convenient Access to Healthcare

Healthcare organizations make persistent efforts toward patient-centric, value-based care. Introducing and enhancing patient portal solutions makes this task easier, allowing medical providers to promote proactive patient self-care and spur meaningful patient interactions.

Empowering patients with a sense of authority and responsibility for their health with patient portals creates opportunities for better patient engagement, which in turn drives better treatment outcomes. On top of that, fostering patient activation through self-service patient software enables providers to become eligible for MIPS and other incentive programs and further refine the quality of their healthcare services.

Sandra Lupanova is SharePoint and Office 365 Evangelist at Iflexion, a software development and IT consulting company headquartered in Denver.

10 replies »

  1. My biggest issue with the Cape Cod Healthcare Patient Portal is that doctors’ offices often do not reply to messages, do not post labs and images in a timely manner, and, frankly, don’t seem interested in using the portal at all.
    Importantly, there doesn’t seem to be a document that details the Service Level Agreement between the physician’s office and the patient. In the private sector, portal service level agreements are comprehensive, well-written, and woven into their performance reviews. Of course they are because the private sector has a financially vested interest in creating their portals in the first place. There are consequences.
    Doctors and their staffs do not appear to have the same level of buy-in.
    The effect on the delivery of patient healthcare is evident. One might even say that offices mismanaging their patient portals are actually FAILING to meet their patients healthcare needs and defeating the purpose of the portal in the first place.

  2. Application of patient portals in modern healthcare has made it easy for patients to schedule their online appointments without any difficulty. Patient portals enable patients to view their health information, including recent doctor visits, medications, allergies, lab results, discharge summaries, etc.

  3. All additional services, including all levels of support, require extra investment from the solutions’ owners, which might be not in their plans. The portal’s post-deployment maintenance and, particularly customer-centric support, are often excluded from the budget because these services are often considered unnecessary. I don’t think that the situation will change any time soon, so it is critical for the solution to be as sleek as possible, and providers should pay more attention to the offered user guides.

  4. Indeed, sometimes technologies get implemented only for the technologies’ sake and, as a result, final solutions are quite far from users’ real needs. Hopefully, the worldwide adoption of mobile solutions and the overall evolution of patients’ requirements will push both healthcare organizations and technology providers to prioritize usability and patient engagement.

  5. Thank you for such a detailed comment, Ihor. I believe that the common issue is implementing a solution without understanding end users’ needs clearly. In this particular case, many healthcare providers know that it is necessary to have a patient portal, but not all of them are ready to invest in patients’ behavior analysis to understand which features are optimal and how patients will use them. Usability testing is also often ignored. As a result, a healthcare provider has a solution, but instead of bridging the gap between an organization and patients, this solution only complicates the collaboration process and becomes a source of negative user experience.

  6. An interesting life observation, even though it has no connection with the article 🙂

  7. Often a person simply does not know what he really wants. The inability to set a goal correctly gives a certain psychological fluctuation, which, in turn, does not allow a person to enjoy every specific moment of life. Girlfriends go to the movies? Well, and I’m with them! Or maybe I want to lie more on the couch with a book – good, only yesterday I bought a new detective? Or eat cakes in a cafe? Whatever the choice, we will be unhappy, because initially we didn’t know what the soul lay for. The cinema will seem boring, the book is uninteresting, and the realization that they get fat from cakes will come only after crumbs are left from them – in general, the evening will be hopelessly spoiled.

  8. Thanks for such a great article! While exploring the importance of patient portal creation, I have revealed the next barriers to improving the patient experience:

    1. Limited functionality. Misunderstanding what features should be included in the portal by healthcare management leaves a wide gap between patient and healthcare provider access and users do not consider the current features to be useful to them. “There’s nothing there,”, they notice in the recent poll.

    2. Tedious patient journey. As the system includes multiple separate software products, providers are unable to make navigation understandable to the user, thus not considering a patient’s journey. In addition, numerous login requirements at the authorisation stage force users to skip installation and stop system usage altogether.

    3. Not entirely optimised for mobile usage. mHealth breakthrough started a couple of years ago, bringing a “patient-doctor” communication to a higher level of interaction. Despite this fact, mHealth implementation is still gradual among healthcare organisations. The figures are compelling: 78% of patients are waiting for a better entry to the mHealth market.

    4. Privacy concerns. Patients are feeling anxious about their medical data: who will have access to it, how it will be used and for what purposes? They need a clear view of all data transfers upon demand.

    Once you decide to improve the patient experience in a healthcare facility, it is extremely important to consider all of the worrying issues that we have revealed earlier, in order to gain a comprehensive picture of the necessary improvements. In my recent article, I have pointed out the most crucial steps on this path –

  9. The current state of portals sucks. They were an afterthought. “Oh yeah, the patients…” But the next generation looks much better: mobile, better interface, more focus on engagement. There should be substantial effort to have portals create efficiencies for patients.

  10. Thanks! I would say another one is – Effective tech support. Many portal vendors expect the buyer (physicians, hospitals) to assist patients with logging in, which very quickly becomes extremely cumbersome. Have the vendor commit to level-1 support.

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