In it’s broadest definition, a portal is a doorway from one place to another. On the internet, a portal is a site that has links to other sites. In health care IT, the term refers to a feature of an electronic medical record that gives patients the ability to see parts of their medical record.
In each of these definitions there are two important things that are consistent:
1. To access what’s on the other side, a person must find the portal.
2. What is on the other side of the portal is not controlled by the person using it.
This is very important in the area of my concern: health care IT. Our old friend “Meaningful Use” includes the requirement that the EMR system must “Provide patients the ability to view online, download, and transmit their health information.”
In case you’ve forgotten (deliberately or not), “Meaningful Use” is a program to encourage use of EMR by doctors, paying them real cash money if they meet the prescribed requirements. The main way EMR vendors accomplish this provision is through the use of a “patient portal.”
So are portals the answer to patient engagement via online tools? Are they the answer to e-Patient Dave’s demand to “Gimme My Damn Data?” I don’t think so. They may be a step in the right direction, giving people some of the information they need, but there is still a wide gulf between giving someone a cup of water and ending a drought.