One way or another, patient portals continue to grow


A computer-savvy friend once suggested that were it not for the widespread and illicit sharing of software back in the early days of the personal computer, the machines might never have gotten off the ground.

We were reminded of that observation as we read through this piece about the evolution of patient portals.  Not that the writer suggests anything illicit about the way patient portals are spreading.  Rather, it’s more that, based on his depiction, it seems the growth of patient portals is happening -- and will continue to happen -- in small, sideways steps rather than in a straight march forward.

The most official reason for the recent growth in patient portals, of course, is the requirement for patient portal use that has been rolled into meaningful use Stage 2.  And the numbers he cites, and their implications, are impressive.

From there, though, he begins to dip into more sociological influences, so to speak. One observer he quotes says, "As more older doctors retire and younger doctors replace them, they're more technically adept, more eager and willing to rely on technology to facilitate their practices."

That same observer also “noted that the percentage of practicing physicians employed by hospitals is rising quickly. Hospitals can tell employed doctors that they must use patient portals, whereas independent practitioners can make their own decisions. So as more doctors go to work for hospitals or large groups, the number of physicians who use patient portals is likely to increase.”

And then there are other, less certain ways of moving forward.  For example, “if a doctor acquires a portal to share records with patients and demonstrate meaningful use, the probability that his or her practice will use it for other functions depends on a number of variables. Among other things, he said, physicians must consider current staffing and workflow.

"If they have a really tech-savvy staffer or clinician in the practice, and the portal functions can be easily integrated into their work without overburdening them, the practice will want to implement that. But other practices may not have people who understand how to take advantage of portal capabilities or how it will drive value."

This scenario is presented largely as a potential drag on the spread of portals, but perhaps we’re in a glass half-full frame of mind, because we’d suggest that it’s only a matter of time before those tech-savvy staffers are pretty much everywhere.

So what do you think?  Are ubiquitous patient portals just a matter of time?