Making Mobile Patient Portals Useful

Zach Watson
Zach Watson

Building a patient portal just to meet meaningful-use criteria is a shortsighted strategy.


Though the meaningful-use program offers [or used to offer] significant financial reward for meeting a set of federal standards, it also makes healthcare providers implement a customer-facing system without truly considering the customer.


This strategy may help providers skirt financial penalties for non-compliance, but it will inevitably fail with patients in the long run. Consider that some 61% of patients say accessibility to digital services plays a large role in choosing a physician and the impetus of implementing a useable patient portal becomes much clearer.


How did the banking industry—an example against which healthcare technology is often compared—create customer portals that continue to attract droves of users? The factors were numerous, but accessibility played a monumental role, which means going mobile in modern terms.


Mobile banking apps now allow users to perform a slew of tasks, like checking balances, transferring money between accounts and paying bills. These features saved consumers a tremendous amount of time and embedded mobile banking into the lives of millions.

 

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Though it's unlikely that patient portals will ever be accessed as often as mobile banking, ensuring that the patient portal provides obvious value to a patient's experience with a healthcare provider remains an important point.

Here are six features that will make a patient portal app more appealing to patients.


Appointment Scheduling


Much of the convenience patients will derive from a portal app comes from not having to spend time on the phone negotiating with office staff about when the doctor has an opening—or worse waiting on hold just for the chance to speak with a staff member about making an appointment.


Making online appointments with a mobile device is nearly unbeatable in terms of pure utility. Many of the day-to-day events in the lives of consumers are managed through a mobile calendar so having the ability to schedule an appointment with a doctor in the same fashion will feel wonderfully familiar.


Online Bill Pay


With new insurance plans featuring higher deductibles, patients will need an easy method for reconciling their bill with a hospital or practice. Making this functionality part of a mobile patient portal will provide users with a simple method for tracking and paying their bill. Traveling to a doctor's office or mailing a check to a PO box are antiquated and inconvenient processes for retrieving payments, and they contribute to the deficit nearly every physician runs in terms of patient payments.


Email Login Integration


Keeping track of the proliferating number of site logins and passwords can be arduous for consumers, and it can affect the way they interact with websites and mobile applications. Does your patient portal require users to create and remember custom user names? That might be too much when it comes to convenience-obsessed users who are already inundated with too much information.


To make the user's experience simpler, choose a solution that integrates with email service providers during the login experience. That way, users can login to the mobile app with their email and stay logged in until they have to update the app or their operating system.


Direct Messaging with Providers


The recent influx of newly insured patients into the healthcare system has placed larger burdens on already-overworked primary care physicians. Consequently, time spent with patients at the point of care is becoming less personal and more like a quick question-and-answer session.


It's easy for patients to forget important questions in this scenario. These unanswered questions may later lead them to book another appointment or even go to the emergency room—both of which are unnecessary and inconvenient.


Including direct provider messaging in a patient portal app supplies patients with the means to quickly and simply ask providers questions without having to go to the office or wait on the phone. This feature helps remove traditional barriers between patient and physician and prevents paranoia and misinformation from deciding how a patient deals with an unfamiliar symptom or situation.


Viewing Lab Results and Other Medical Information


Allowing patients to quickly view their medical information and history online is a tremendous improvement from the old system of requesting that a physician's office print off records and mail them.


Because so much other information can be accessed online, consumers are conditioned to expect personal information to be available via the web. Whether they're visiting a new physician, waiting for an important lab result or simply reviewing their medical history, providing digital access to personal health information is fundamental to creating a less confusing healthcare system.


Awareness


Even if you design and deploy a beautiful piece of mobile software that's packed with useful features, patients won't use it unless they know about it and understand its benefits. While this isn't necessarily a feature of a patient portal app, it is a crucial ingredient to success.


Because physicians aren't yet used to advertising digital services, many of their patients are still unaware of the digital services available to them. Even the Mayo Clinic learned that creating an excellent piece of software isn't enough. Patients must be engaged and knowledgeable about how to manage their health and access digital healthcare services.


This may seem like an extensive list for some, and it may not be wise to deploy all this software at once. If you're choosing a white-label solution for your practice, look for a vendor whose software offers tiered functionality, then start with the most important features and build.


Either way, medical software is changing nearly as rapidly as the expectations of patients. If providers truly want to build a new, digital healthcare ecosystem, the utility of the patient-facing technology must be a priority.


Zach Watson is the content manager at TechnologyAdvice.