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Why Patient Portals Won’t Be Enough

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The Affordable Care Act, or ‘Obama-care’ as it is affectionately known, includes the requirements for Meaningful Use (MU) of healthcare IT.  It outlines the varying degrees of IT usage that organizations must demonstrate. Compliance is encouraged and enforced through specific incentives and penalties.

The first and second stage of MU, which most organizations have achieved or are well on their way to achieving, were in large part facilitated through the deployment of patient portals. These portals provide patients with secure, online access to their personal health information in the hospital’s EHR or other IT systems.  Subsequent stages of MU will allow patients to ‘download’ copies of that information and do with it as they wish.

It is important that organizations appreciate the business impact of this transformation, specifically, the ability for patients to get their health information and go online to seek various providers to support them. Patients are being empowered to take a more active role in their own health and wellness – and they will.

To account for this shift, Walgreens, for example, has started offering services that previously were only available from a doctor.  Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are the “primary provider of care” to patients afflicted with what is arguably the root-cause of most chronic conditions…and patients are paying out of their own pocket for this service. And we’re seeing more and more of this in terms of health coaching services, wellness, etc.

While healthcare organizations have deployed patient portals initially to comply with MU, some believe a patient portal can help them remain connected to their patients. They are showing thought leadership in terms of marketing their businesses and remaining relevant to patients.  However, these patients also use portals from Walgreens, Weight Watchers, their local gym, and more.  We saw this in the early days of online commerce – retailers creating their own websites to allow customers to shop virtually at their store.

To overcome this problem, retailer-agnostic portals such as Amazon and eBay arrived on the scene. These portals gave control to the individual. They allowed the user to set their personal preferences such that the portal could begin to know the person holistically, not just in the context of one retailer.  And the portal is not limited to any one retailer – it supports the user in all of his or her shopping needs.  Retailers have subsequently shifted from trying to ‘lock people into’ their online portal, to establishing loyalty based on the scope and quality of the service and product-mix.

The ecommerce example above leads us to believe that locking patients in to a single provider portal will also not work. Why?

  1. Legislation is at odds with it.  Patients can now download and control their own health information.
  2. Services available to the patient may be limited to what the provider can offer.  For example, if my doctor advises me to lose weight but his portal doesn’t offer weight loss services, I am forced to leave his portal and instead use Weight Watchers.  Doing so actually puts Weight Watchers in a better position of influence on my health and wellness than my physician.  Can you imagine if my physician is incented for my outcomes, such as is the case with ACOs and capitated models of care?  Weight Watchers is now influencing my doctor’s income!

The solution is simple. What’s needed is an online platform that is controlled by the patient, is not hosted behind a single healthcare provider’s firewall, and that meets the patient’s specific needs and wants.  Like Amazon, providers who link their portals and business models to this ubiquitous platform not only enhance the patient experience, but can continually offer services to the patient, and in that way, remain relevant and build their business.

This solution is called Connected Wellness.