Future portals will also allow patients to download their own continuity of care record to a portable media device or file. “The icing on the cake would be if I could securely download my CCR and take my record with me on a CD or portable storage device to any other providers, specialist, or healthcare organizations that I may be referred to,” Gordon says. “A key component is to deliver a portal to the patient that will have data represented from their ambulatory primary care provider as well as from the delivery system visits.”
Eventually, portals could bring together virtual collaborative care teams that patients can access when it is convenient to them.
“In the future we will see the emergence of collaborative care plans where patients and doctors collaborate on disease management through patient portals,” Savage says. “This will allow healthcare organizations … to strategically tie the right level or resource to patients at the right time—drastically increasing quality access. These interactions can be tied to collaborative care plans which ensure that best practices for quality, cost, and efficiency can be continuously brought to the patient not only at the point of care but throughout their daily life.”
And, he adds, consumer technologies will change how patients interact with healthcare providers. “With increased presence of smartphones and tablets, patient connectivity will likely occur much more with brief frequent interactions like Twitter than through prolonged infrequent interactions via a desktop computer.”
Moving forward with portals
It’s not surprising that there are still a significant number of healthcare organizations that do not have patient portals, Gordon says. “It’s not a trivial effort, and the organization needs to sponsor it as a strategic initiative.”
There are a number of obstacles and unanswered questions, as well.
“The financial incentives from the provider’s perspective are mixed,” says Daniel O’Donnell, MD, senior advisor for medical informatics at InterSystems Corporation, a Cambridge, MA-based software provider. “On the one hand, patient portals have the potential for improving efficiencies … On the other hand, routine return appointments to present and discuss laboratory results are billable visits that would decrease. In addition, there are medical cultural and tradition barriers. For example, there are widely different clinical opinions about when patients should have online access to which lab results. As soon as available? Before seen by the clinician? Only normal results before seen by the clinician? Only after a set time period after being available to the clinician?”
But organizations that don’t make the effort are missing an opportunity to increase engagement between patients and physicians and other myriad benefits, Gordon and others say.
“It will not be a choice in the future—it will be an expectation,” Gordon says. “The current generation expects that they should be able to go online to get their necessary healthcare information just as they do their online banking. You don’t want to be in the situation of not meeting basic expectations of the majority of the patient population.”