I’m a big fan of the online world. I love the ease of online banking, the efficiency of Zappos shoe shopping, and the simplicity of reading The Drudge Report for all the latest news. Someday I may also be a huge enthusiast for online patient portals, but that’s not quite the case today.
During the workday I rarely think about mundane tasks such as scheduling physicals or calling the eye doctor to order new contacts. I am more likely to recall that my daughter needs a follow-up appointment with the ENT when I notice her taking off her hearing aid for the night. Or, I’ll remember it’s time for a mammogram while sharing a bottle of wine with girlfriends and someone mentions the joys of her most recent scan. That last one happens a lot, actually.
I’d like to think I am the quintessential candidate for online patient portals: busy single mom who works full-time and is tech-savvy. I have little patience for being placed on hold for 10 minutes while listening to an endlessly looping recording about the importance of my call. I’d much rather schedule a doctor’s appointment with a few clicks on my keyboard while sipping my first cup of coffee. I get annoyed when my only communication option is to wait until the office opens at 9:00 a.m., navigate the automated phone system, listen to on-hold messages, and finally exchange forced pleasantries with a multi-tasking receptionist.
Recently I had a very positive experience using my primary care physician’s patient portal. One of my specialists requested a copy of my PCP’s referral form in order to schedule a new appointment. I accessed the PCP’s patient portal and in about two minutes found the referral and requested a copy to be forwarded to the specialist. The next day the specialist’s office called to say they had the referral in hand.
Other recent patient portal attempts have been a bit less successful. Typically if I need to schedule any type of medical appointment, I first go to the practice’s website and determine if they have an online scheduling option. That’s what I did a couple of months ago to schedule an appointment for my daughter and the whole process worked beautifully: the system asked for my preferred days and times; the next day I had an email informing me to check to practice’s portal for a message; the message informed me of the appointment time, which I then confirmed.
Unfortunately, a couple of days later my daughter reminded me of a conflict. So, back to the portal I went to send a new message requesting a reschedule. After several days I realized no one had responded to my message. I sent a second message. Again, no response. I ended up having to call the office, navigate the automated phone system, listen to on-hold messages, and finally exchange forced pleasantries with a multi-tasking receptionist.
Another one of my physicians uses a patient portal but its functionality is limited. For example, I am able to request an appointment with preferred dates and times, but rather than having an automated response, someone calls me back to finalize the appointment time. It beats having to call the office and being placed on hold, but if I miss the call or am driving, it’s back to the old-fashioned telephone method.
I often hear providers complain about the Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirement that at least five percent of patients view or download their personal health information via an online portal. Many argue the threshold is too high because many patients lack Internet access or computer expertise, or simply prefer communicating with a live person. However, I’d contend that providers are not doing themselves any favors by implementing poorly designed portals with limited functionality. As a patient, I wonder why I should use a portal if it doesn’t eliminate having to call the practice. I worry that my messages are getting “lost” – either due to technical glitches or office workflow issues. I get frustrated with confusing navigation and functionality that can’t hold a candle to what my veterinarian offers.
In a world where we can spend 10 minutes online and pay a month’s worth of bills, buy a pair of shoes, and read the day’s headlines, why is the healthcare industry so far behind in its efforts to provide patients with a consistently efficient online experience?
Michelle Ronan Noteboom
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