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Raj Amin

Is there a future for the patient portal?

By Raj Amin

The patient portal is likely one of the biggest opportunities and the biggest failures in healthcare over the past 5 years. When patient portals originally were discussed, I am sure they were met with great excitement and hope by the industry. The concept of patient portals actually spawned a number of early players to attract capital and build innovative products. Many of these were acquired a few years ago as the promise of patient centered care drew excitement from acquirers along the way, or were needed to protect their current foothold. Companies like MedFusion (acquired by Intuit, then divested), Jardogs (acquired by Allscripts), Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health all went toward this opportunity. Yet still today the patient portal is a phrase that draws looks of frustration and contempt from many in the industry.

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Killing the “tethered” approach with interoperability

Many of the problems arise from the fact that innovation has been hampered by lack of interoperability. In other industries, standards emerge that allow new ideas to be brought to market faster. Think “agile” development, with a heavy component of A/B testing at low costs. This is what created the internet as we know it, and also the rise of mobile app technology that has become ubiquitous. There was a time when all your computer apps were “tethered” in a way that didn’t allow for innovation, where hardware and software were combined and innovation was expensive. It’s the world that healthcare is still living in, although it is changing fast.

That lack of interoperability created the tethered portal, or the portal that you took from your EMR vendor. In most cases these were not great experiences, and while they could check the box they often didn’t scream “I’m awesome, come use me all the time!” But with all the other costs and the risks of integrating something new, it made sense for many to stay with the portal bundled with their EHR. The patient could technically get their data, so all is well. The problem is, we lost the opportunity to give the consumer what they wanted, and to deepen our relationship with them. Times are changing, and that’s a good thing.

API’s and Innovation

With the latest ideas around healthcare transformation, there have been bold statements about the future of technology within our industry. API’s or “Application Programming Interfaces” are the language that disparate systems use to speak to each other in technology. In healthcare, this was not a highly used term, but now it’s taking center stage. Andy Slavitt, Acting Director for CMS spoke in a blog post about the need for API’s in driving innovation in healthcare. "We are requiring open APIs in order [that] the physician desktop can be opened up and move away from the lock that early EHR decisions placed on physician organizations. “
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