Though the patient portal market has grown significantly in the past year, it is still in its infancy stage and is evolving every day. As the market continues to mature, however, there is a growing debate as to whether patient portal adoption will be driven more by patient or provider demand. Let’s take a look at what is driving the demand for each, as well as where the market might be headed.
A Brief History of Patient Portals
A major component in the initial demand for patient portals was the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), in particular the HITECH Act within ARRA which set aside approximately $19 billion for health information technology. This funding offset the costs of electronic medical record systems which included patient portals for practicing providers.
Much of the early development and design of patient portals was focused on accommodating provider workflows and the requirements for their practice or hospital. These patient portals were provider-centric as patient records were not electronically “portable” for other providers to see outside of the portal network.
Even still, the needs of these early adopter providers weren’t being met as ambitious Meaningful Use deadlines drove many software companies to rush solutions to market with features and functionality that were limited. Much of the focus was also on producing a quick return on investment and meeting the requirements for Meaningful Use. This left patients with little or no input as to what they wanted or needed in a portal.
Portals Evolving To Become More Patient-Centric
As time has progressed, with feature improvements and enhancements being made within the patient portal market to accommodate users, the paradigm has begun to shift bringing with it the demand for more patient-centric patient portals. More patients today want to take control of and improve their health, as they seek out health-related information. In fact, patients want the ability to not only add and edit information, but to connect it with other software solutions or apps. They also want to be able to schedule appointments with their doctors online or have e-consultations via video conferencing. Even sending a simple secured message or refilling a prescription request is all that many patients are looking for. Software developers have responded to these requirements, allowing for more patient-centric portal functionality.
The Future of Patient Portals
So where is the market headed? The key to the future of patient portals is the interoperability between all disparate systems. Being able to interface EMRs or practice management systems with patient portals is critical to the long-term success of either both patient and provider-centric portals. Although HL7 has brought the communication standardization on how many of these systems can “talk” to one another, we are still a ways off from seeing a significant portion of the market that is interoperable.
With Stage 2 of Meaningful Use set to go into effect in 2014, a step towards interoperability will be made through the requirement that any certified EMR vendor must be able to export their patient record as a CCR, CCD or CDA file. This will allow for disparate patient portals to upload this file and present it as structured data within the patient health record. This is a big step in introducing more people to the efficacies of the patient portal and will set the stage for future growth.