From Portals to Platforms: Unleash Your Patient Engagement Strategy

Updated on September 24, 2021
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By Terri Casterton, Director of Healthcare Product and Strategy at Bottle Rocket

It’s no secret that 2020 marked a banner year for digital expansion in healthcare. Engagement tactics were already in play pre-pandemic – think telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and care at home – but COVID-19 pushed providers to reach patients from behind closed doors. The pandemic showed us that the industry had a problem to solve: the system is fraught with an obstacle course of hoops for patients and providers to jump through. 

Wondering why a digital experience matters now that the world is returning to face-to-face interactions? Well, according to a recent survey conducted by Forrester, in 2020 28 percent of patients switched providers after a poor digital experience. As digitally-native Millennials and Gen-Zers make more healthcare decisions for themselves, their children, and their parents, the tolerance threshold for lackluster digital healthcare experiences will only continue shrinking.

Providers need to simplify the user experience, shifting their mindset and approach from patient portals to more robust patient engagement platforms. Most importantly, leaders should direct their post-pandemic strategy to address the following questions: How do we make it frictionless for patients to engage, across the spectrum of solutions and locations of care? And what arrangement of digital tools will support a seamless experience? 

Electronic Health Record Portals

Over the last decade, Electronic Health Record (EHR) patient portals have provided an entry-point for basic transactions, like viewing test results and refilling medications. But healthcare system leaders are recognizing the need to move beyond these basics. The support of specific market and specialty needs, as well as scalability and differentiation potential, should be factored into decisions on how to innovate digital experiences. In addition, leaders must ensure that their choices are flexible enough to experiment with added revenue-generating or cost-avoiding initiatives. These new requirements have driven a shift from patient portals to dynamic platforms, which leverage the value of multiple point solutions. 

The migration to more dynamic systems has become easier. EHR vendors are becoming more willing to partner with third-party app and cloud-based developers, creating integrated solutions that enable a more cohesive experience of care: Cerner’s Open Developer Experience and Epic’s App Orchard are great examples. With continued policy changes supporting interoperability and patient access to data, third-party healthcare app implementations are becoming easier and cheaper.

That’s not to say that shifting your company approach from portal to platform is a minor undertaking; but boy, is it worth it. If you weren’t convinced by now, here are four key advantages to investing in innovation… 

Hyper-personalize to the markets and individuals you serve

One of the beautiful things about EHRs is their ability to serve an enterprise, from labs to ICUs, across multiple facilities and geographies. This scale can drive much-needed standardization and efficiencies, in a world of shrinking healthcare margins. However, when it comes to the realities of what affects the health of a population, a one-size-fits-all approach becomes an Achilles heel. For example, the needs of a 72-year-old patient on a fixed income, with multiple co-morbid conditions, are much different than the needs of affluent, commercially insured, young parents with two children. 

As value shifts from fee-for-service to fee-for-outcome, a hyper-focus on specific segments reveals new opportunities to drive engagement on a highly specialized care journey. With that shift in value, the ROI of using niche solutions to serve particular engagement strategies to population segments becomes more demonstrable. 

Uncover insights, reveal revenue opportunities and drive development 

EHR patient portal analytics paint an accurate picture of log-in statistics and patient activity. However, a richer data set is needed to move from merely understanding function to deriving actionable insight. 

Third-party and custom-developed analytics uncover unmet needs, to drive specific feature development and business tactics. For example, from a basic patient portal dashboard one can understand how many patients are booking appointments. But this knowledge pales in comparison to understanding how many patients started searching for a provider, what they were searching for, and how far they got in the booking workflow before stopping. This level of insight empowers systems to understand coverage gaps in markets, and adapt the user-experience to guide them to services they need. 

Move at the speed of your strategy, not at the speed of vendor releases

Many third-party vendor solutions are cloud-based, allowing them to be nimbler with updates when responding to customer feature requests. Conversely, EHR implementations usually rely on semi-annual updates to get the latest and greatest features implemented on client-specific hardware – only after beating out a significant backlog of other requests.

With more flexibility on feature releases, healthcare systems can more easily experiment with engagement approaches, to minimize investment in resources, and spend more time iterating towards an informed solution.

Orchestrate more person-centric engagement tactics 

As more healthcare systems explore third-party solutions, the need to create a cohesive user experience intensifies. Disjointed, clunky workflows that require patients to log into different systems and receive redundant or conflicting communications make for dismal patient engagement. A unified, secure platform that informs a patient’s decisions on health learning and buying decisions works for both patients and providers.

It’s time to make a move

Early adopters of a platform model with multiple point solutions stand to unleash their patient engagement strategy and gain a competitive advantage in an industry that is certainly headed in this direction. And when transformation is so key to delivering an improved service, streaking ahead of competitors, and keeping up with a changing industry, time is of the essence. So, what are you waiting for?

Terri Casterton, Director of Healthcare Product and Strategy at Bottle Rocket, assesses the importance of digital innovation in healthcare post-pandemic.

Terri is a growth, product, and strategy specialist with over 15 years leading individuals and teams in the healthcare arena. Prior to her arrival at Ogilvy Experience, Terri co-established the Innovation and Virtual Health program at SCL Health, a Denver-Based nonprofit healthcare organization where she devised and implemented a direct-to-consumer telehealth strategy and facilitated annual innovation challenges using human-centered design to tap into complex topics like social determinants of health. Earlier in her career, Terri was an active leader in the EHR space working on Cerner implementations in the US and the United Kingdom, and eventually becoming the program director responsible for 10 Epic-based hospitals and 150 clinics meeting the requirements of CMS’s Meaningful Use initiative.

Terri is a recent grad of Cornell’s Executive MBA and Masters in Healthcare Leadership program and is certified in design thinking through the Standford D.School. Her thought leadership has been showcased in speaking engagements with HIMSS and the American Telemedicine Association.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.