eTech Insights – Engaging Patients: Focus on PHR Strategies to Supplement Portals - Cover

eTech Insights – Engaging Patients: Focus on PHR Strategies to Supplement Portals

The Problem: Few Patients Use EHR Portals to Manage Their Healthcare

A recent national study by Health Affairs discovered that while 95% of providers offer EHR portals to their patients, only around 10% of patients that have access to these portals for viewing, downloading, and transmitting (VDT) their personal information actually use the environments. This is in spite of the fact that providing VDT services to patients is a necessary piece of meeting meaningful use Stage 2 requirements.

Several issues with EHR portal use by patients were also identified in the study. Many providers focus on the legal implications (i.e., CYA) of portal use as well as operational instructions for creating portal accounts. Few providers share insights with their patients about the best ways to use the EHR portal to support their specific health conditions.

Providers also need to be aware that patients have higher expectations of information and web services thanks to their consumer experiences with popular websites, like Amazon.

The Solution: PHRs Can Improve Patient Engagement and Supplement Portals

Instead of requiring patients to access the EHR portal for their healthcare information or for healthcare management capabilities (e.g., scheduling services and bill payment), why not push these services to the patients in an interactive manner with advancing smart device applications (e.g., smart home devices and smartphones)? This approach will likely be more highly adopted by millennials and the Generation Z population.

And, instead of pushing emails or text messages to patients telling them to access the portal for important information, why not push information to the patients for use with a personal health record (PHR) that is more interactive and in full control of the patient? With FHIR standards for interoperable APIs, the ability of the EHR to more effectively integrate with third-party PHR solutions will continue to advance. The portal is still a viable patient engagement tool for patients who are comfortable using the portal environment.

A strategy for using the portal to provide VDT services with a patient’s PHR should be evaluated. It is not feasible for a provider to establish VDT transactions with every PHR on the market, but the ability to select PHR solutions with good privacy/security and patient-interaction services that can be promoted to the provider’s patient populations will likely improve care outcomes.

Another key factor for providers to consider is that the patient’s PHR should allow access to other family members. As patients age, family members often become responsible for managing the patients’ healthcare. In these circumstances, healthcare outcomes and medication compliance will likely improve for the patients.

Let’s not forget that many patients still receive treatment from several providers who have different EHRs. In these environments, the PHR becomes the aggregator of patient information across all treatment modalities, and that should improve a patient’s care management capabilities and treatment outcomes.

The Justification: Empowering Patients with Their Medical Information Enables Better Outcomes

While providers are trying to build one-stop medical-services networks through mergers and acquisitions, many patients are still seeing their family physicians and specialists that may or may not be part of these networks. It is not feasible for patients to use more than one EHR portal to access their healthcare information. As the US population ages, more patients will rely on family members to help them manage their healthcare, and PHRs will facilitate more efficient and effective management in this scenario.

PHRs will also allow patients to share their information with independent care providers to enable the most up-to-date and inclusive care record for that patient. Consumers will also expect providers to support their PHRs, especially the younger generations!

The Players: PHRs Designed for Expanding Healthcare Consumerism

Below is a list of representative PHR solutions that provide flexible healthcare consumer services, such as organizing healthcare information, sharing healthcare information with family and providers, requesting medication refills, providing symptom trackers, monitoring health status, and requesting provider visits:

Health Companion is a “complete and long-term personal health record tool that can integrate personal health information from multiple sources, track health finance accounts, and make preventive health and wellness recommendations based on personal risk factors.”

Patient Ally is a “free, internet-based, personal health record management system that enables you to manage your medical records and communicate with your healthcare providers.”

WebMD Health Record “contains your personal health record as well as health assessments, a personalized health plan, and more.”

It should be noted that PHRs have been a challenging environment; both Microsoft and Google have had failed solutions.

Success Factors

  1. Identify popular PHRs being used by your patient population for developing intuitive VDT services from your EHR portal.
  2. Select PHR solutions for your patient engagement strategies that provide intuitive information review and retrieval as well as extended healthcare support services (e.g., sharing information with families, requesting refills and appointments from providers, and suggesting healthcare guidance).
  3. Promote PHR use as an extension of the EHR portal to provide optimal patient services with required privacy and security, especially for the younger generations.


Consumerism in healthcare is driving providers to create more effective patient engagement strategies that can compete with the services provided by Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Netflix. This means pushing relevant and useful healthcare information and alerts to patients’ PHRs on their smart devices. Consumers will expect providers to send them their healthcare information so that it can be easily managed and shared with family members and providers. Consumers will also expect providers to support key healthcare activities through their PHRs, such as scheduling provider visits, refilling medications, monitoring healthcare status, and managing service payments.

While the global technology companies have struggled to launch viable PHRs in the past, the advance of smart home devices may provide a platform that enables more effective PHR services for consumers. Keep an eye on Amazon, Google, and Apple to expand smart home device capabilities for supporting healthcare.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock, Photo Sesaon