If you have been to the doctor’s office recently, you were most likely prompted to complete an online check-in process via the practitioner’s patient portal prior to attending your appointment. The same portal often provides patients additional benefits, including access to test results, communication with physicians, and the list goes on. As this technology continues to advance, it is setting new standards for healthcare providers across the country.

What is a Patient Portal?

A patient portal, or electronic health record (EHR), is a secure online website used for client healthcare. Patients create a username and password and are then given convenient, 24-hour access to their personal health information. All they need is an internet connection! 

Patient portals were first introduced in the late 1990s by a few large healthcare organizations. The Palo Alto Medical Foundation, for example, adopted MyChart, while Boston Children’s Hospital chose Indivo. However, the use of patient portals was not widely adopted until 2006, coinciding with an increase in the “daily use of powerful information and communication sharing tools such as smartphones and social media, [which indicated] the readiness of the general population to embrace technology in a new socially interactive way.” Over the last decade, reliance on patient portals has continued to rise, and innovative tech companies, such as Ombori, have introduced new uses for such technology including virtual queues. 

Benefits of Patient Portals in the Healthcare Industry

Since the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry has relied heavily on patient portals to provide transparent and real-time data to people while ensuring their health and safety from a distance. All participating parties, including both patients and practitioners, have benefitted from the increased use of such technology. Some of the most basic functions of the portals have helped to improve communication and patient satisfaction. For example, patient portals allow people to view the following health information:

  • Recent doctor’s visits
  • Discharge summaries
  • Medications
  • Immunizations
  • Allergies
  • Lab results

Patients with more than one doctor have the ability to use the platform to communicate with and manage all of their providers. 

As the healthcare industry continues to digitize, companies are introducing advanced functions on patient portals in the healthcare sector. 

How Queue Management Apps Improve Patient Portals

The initial mindset behind patient portals was to provide a platform to streamline information sharing between doctors and patients. Over the years, expectations have shifted, and patient portals have evolved into interactive tools used to create real-time communication between patients and practitioners, thus improving overall patient care.

These systems no longer look at past visits only. Instead, they have created a pathway to ensure ongoing care for every patient by providing sources that create a smooth experience for current and future visits. To accommodate this transition, healthcare professionals are turning to queue management apps. 

Why Use a Queue Management App?

Waiting in line at the doctor’s office is not only frustrating, but it can also be risky. Because several sick individuals are gathered in a single area, the rate of spreading infection increases. To help reduce this risk and improve the client experience within the healthcare setting, patient portals now incorporate queue management systems such as Ombori’s Queue Management. This app allows patients to check in to an appointment virtually. Ross Malpass, Design Lead at Ombori, explains, “The technology permits customers to add themselves to a virtual queue using their mobile phone, mimicking the check-in process while at a doctor’s [office]. Once checked in, patients are prompted to answer specific questions and complete required paperwork — all using their smartphone without the need to come in contact with other people. Often, users are provided an estimated wait time; then, when it is their turn to be seen, they are sent an SMS or text message informing them of their status. This allows patients to wait outside the office, for example, in their car or at a local café, instead of in the practitioner’s office.”

Digital Signage in the Waiting Room

Similarly, some healthcare professionals are using digital signage to improve the check-in process. Digital signage “refers to an electronic display of information either on a single screen or spread across multiple screens. It is often used to advertise content, broadcast data, share messages, etc. to a specific audience.” 

In a healthcare setting, digital signs are often installed in the waiting room. When a patient arrives, they are prompted to check in on one of the self-service kiosks. These kiosks inform staff of the patient’s arrival, confirm the patient’s personal information, and then update the patient’s electronic health information with the logged data. 

Using AI to Enhance the Virtual Patient Portal

The experience of using a virtual patient platform is often enhanced by artificial intelligence (AI). AI “leverages computers and machines to mimic the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities of the human mind.” In patient portals, it is used in the form of chatbots, or bots, which interact with patients to enhance their experience and streamline processes for healthcare providers. 

Bluehr, a Health IT platform that focuses on minimizing the cost of healthcare technology globally to empower people to live their lives to the fullest, summarizes the benefits of AI for both patients and practitioners.

AI technology helps patients in the following ways: 

  • Insurance
    • Allows them to review their insurance benefits and ask questions about their benefits and claims
    • Assists them in identifying in-network providers
    • Allows them to make payments online
  • Pharmaceutical management
    • Prompts them to take their medication
    • Reminds them to refill prescriptions
    • Provides them with educational material on medications
  • Scheduling
    • Allows them to request new appointments
    • Allows them to manage current appointments
    • Reminds them of upcoming appointments
  • Intake
    • Triages patients by collecting and summarizing demographic and clinical information
    • Allows them to complete patient questionnaires
    • Allows them to communicate with healthcare professionals

The combination of AI technology and patient care also benefits healthcare professionals:

  • Billing – Automated insurance and payment processes have reduced work hours required by staff, aiding in huge costs savings. 
  • Documentation – Data is collected and stored within the system, creating a more comprehensive overview of the patient’s history. 
  • Personalized care – Once data is collected, the system is able to aggregate and prioritize all data. This has led to a greater standard of care since medical providers can now easily access and review pertinent patient information. 
  • Care advice – Patients are automatically directed toward resources that can assist them with self-care and receive after-care advice following their visits. 

How to Elevate the Patient Portal Experience

Although nearly 90% of healthcare systems and providers currently offer patient portals, it is estimated that only 20% of patients actually use these platforms. According to researchers, the primary reasons patients do not use them are as follows:

  • Providers do not engage with the tool, thereby providing their patients little to no benefit.
  • Available information within the platform is limited.
  • Portals are confusing or difficult to use, presenting technological challenges for many patients.
  • Patients prefer to speak to their doctor directly rather than communicate via technology.
  • Patients are concerned about privacy and data security.
  • Portals lack meaningful engagement.

In order to elevate the patient experience and improve their ability to leverage patient portals, healthcare professionals must overcome these current challenges and continue to adapt their systems to changing consumer demand. In addition to the changes being implemented by healthcare professionals, software developers are expected to incorporate additional features to improve the overall customer experience. These include the following:

  • The ability to deliver more information and support greater interaction between patients and providers. Patient portals will become the primary tool used by practitioners to communicate with clients.
  • The ability to pull, organize, and summarize data from patients’ multiple EHRs and devices, including fitness trackers. This will provide patients with an overall snapshot of their health-related information and aid in developing and sharing action plans.  
  • The ability to automate more actions. For example, patients will be able to initiate and conduct a virtual visit with a simple click from the portal.
  • The ability to offer more resources, including connections to support groups or communities focused on specific health conditions or wellness concerns. “Portals will become richer as they’re able to incorporate other capabilities that patients want,” says Peter Kilbridge, M.D., senior director for research at The Advisory Board Co., healthcare research and consulting firm headquartered in Washington D.C. For example, physicians will be able to use portals to connect patients to nutrition programs or deliver ongoing content that helps motivate patients with chronic conditions to stay on track with their care program.

Ripley Hollister, M.D., Physicians Foundation board member, and primary care practitioner in Colorado Springs, Colorado, shares the following: “The future of the portal is about getting the right data to patients in an understandable format to help them engage and improve their ability to follow a healthcare plan.”

It now seems evident that virtual patient portals are a vital component of the future of healthcare. They will continue to provide patients with an optimal experience to ensure they connect, communicate, and collaborate with healthcare providers across the health continuum. This technological innovation appears to be a win-win solution for all involved in the healthcare process.

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