InQuiring Minds: Is a Patient Portal Enough?

Compiled and Written by Right Question Intern Jessica Faust.

Although IT solutions help involve patients in their appointments through apps and portals, miscommunication between care provider and patient is still a prevalent issue in medicine. The articles below highlight the challenges of engaging patients and demonstrate the prevailing need for non-technological strategies to complement IT solutions in order to combat the miscommunication in our healthcare system.


In this informational interview conducted by Center for Advancing Health, Dr. Marc Pierson, senior advisor to Cambridge Management Group, finally addressed the questions we’ve all been wondering: what does patient engagement encompass? Pierson proceeds to describe how patients must be engaged with to prevent illness, rather than be managed to treat illness. “The current non-system of health care,” Pierson explains, “plays into this [issue of patient engagement] by being disconnected and difficult for people to understand or navigate.”

What are the dangers of miscommunication between care-provider and patient? Susan Edgman-Levitan and Tegal Ghandi, in their article “Empowering Patients as Partners in Health Care,” share anecdotes and conclusions from the patient safety conference they attended at the National Patient Safety Foundations Lucian Leape Institute. Edgman-Levitan and Ghandi share patient cases where miscommunication led to disastrous consequences.Envisioning a day where patients’ voices are heard, the authors suggest involving patients in the formal organization of patient engagement solutions, as well as training care-providers to take time to address patients’ concerns. “The system exists to serve them,” the authors wrote, “but it doesn’t serve them well if their voices are not heard.”

In his personal anecdote, Travis Moore, a former orthopedic-rehabilitation nurse, discusses the potential consequences when patients do not have access to necessary educational materials. When Travis Moore’s wife broke her ankle, the doctor they visited gave the two a limited, one-page guide—not knowing they were nurses—which only included the basics of fractures and insurance information. “Fortunately for us,” Moore explained, “we know how to take care of her injury because we have a clinical background, but we are not the ‘normal’ patient.” Later, Moore discusses how using the patient portal could help patients evade a potentially confusing situation; however, the success of the patient portal hinges on patients using it. “Even though this practice has an online patient portal that they could have used to provide post-injury educational materials, we were never informed of it or encouraged to use it.”

In his piece, Kyle Murphy discusses the payer-consumer relationship between healthcare organizations and patients as patient portals are being implemented in healthcare practices. Murphy quotes Deanna Kasim, IDC Health Insights Analyst, who explains, “at the end of the day, you want to repeat business, you want retention.” Ultimately, the patient portal can give patients access to healthcare materials and a technological platform to analyze usage, while non-technological strategies can offer a personalized way for each patient to take a role in their healthcare, opening communication with their physicians.


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