Guest Column | December 14, 2016

Healthcare Organizations Shouldn't Go It Alone When It Comes To Meeting Mandates For User-Friendly Patient Portals

Alaaeldin El-Nattar, Rivet Logic

By Alaaeldin El-Nattar, COO, Rivet Logic

Offering a warm, honest bedside manner has always been a priority for quality medical professionals. But now, as the healthcare services industry implements increasingly sophisticated digital portals for patients and providers, the quality of the patient experience these interfaces deliver is becoming a similarly high concern.

Health organizations on the industry’s government-funded side — those accepting Medicare, Medicaid, and other assistance — also have their need for more intuitive and user-friendly portal experiences influenced by the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). CMS mandates easy usability in these systems, performs automatic annual audits that score organizations’ portals based on the quality of the patient and provider experiences offered, and has the power to impose monetary penalties if those experiences aren’t deemed satisfactory.

Unfortunately, healthcare organizations often struggle to meet these mandated levels of service quality, partially because healthcare is a sprawling (yet sophisticated) business with countless processes in place for which to account. More than that, though, it is because large companies will choose to go it alone and try to produce their portal solutions internally, while products on the market could have helped them achieve compliance and strong user experiences much more quickly and capably.

A poor decision in pursuing a new portal strategy is exacerbated by the fact these organizations are like large ships that take a long time to turn — implementing systemic changes and migrating to new portal interfaces can take an entire year (or even several), depending on the company’s size. Many of the healthcare organizations are large enough to have lots of very entrenched silos, each of which have had budgets to build their own technology solutions that are redundant with solutions at the next silo over.

New leadership will attempt to consolidate these redundancies, and, in our experience with these cases, will have the fastest success and best return on their investment if they enlist external technology to help them along. It’s also true these organizations are typically bogged down by compliance concerns, such that any efforts to introduce more efficient practices usually proceed at a slow, deliberate pace to ensure they meet legal requirements. This is all the more reason why flexible technologies that address compliance constraints head-on are able to provide such value.

In our role as a solution provider, we’ve worked with enough healthcare organizations to see they all face similar challenges. Traditionally, those that try to build portal solutions from scratch come to discover they are hard to maintain and improve upon, but by committing internal teams and resources they end up painting themselves into a corner. The decision to develop internally usually isn’t even cost driven; rather, it’s more often these organizations have existing resources and fail to recognize the importance of expertise in digital experience platform technology — something that most do not have. It’s also the case many healthcare companies continue to have such complex (and largely incompatible) infrastructure in place because that’s what they believe is necessary to build up a solution. However, the reality is external portal products that meet these health organization needs are available, and they much more directly address mandated requirements.

For instance, the CMS mandate covering population management requires organizations dealing with patients must proactively gather statistics on patient treatments and outcomes, and then use that data to provide better services to patients. If the data were to show, for example, males over age 65 who have certain health issues end up responding favorably to a certain type of care, new patients fitting those criteria should be given treatment as supported by that data.

CMS will measure organizations on how well they adhere to this practice. However, actually gathering and analyzing data in such a way to make it actionable takes tremendous infrastructure. Across the board, healthcare organizations relying on internally developed systems tend to have legacy infrastructure that makes it challenging to satisfy this growing need. And while organizations strive for modernized digital solutions, they face plenty of red tape and are by no means nimble. In other words, they may have the money and interest to replace their solutions, but not the stamina.

We can offer a cautionary example in this vein: of course it’s always better to do the right thing before being forced to, but too often it takes a rude awakening and a hefty monetary fine to spur action. Let’s say you are one of those large healthcare firms. Let’s also say you’ve already built your patient/provider/Medicare portal. And let’s now say you’re about to get audited by CMS. We all know how that goes. It’s a stressful time and nothing feels as good as getting it right the first time. But let’s say you get audited and you score poorly. Nobody wants to ever be in that position. However, what you will need to do now is fast track a redesign of your portals, with improvements to your CMS audit score as the main success criteria.

The good news is the technology that is up to this task is available and widely used in the market today. One of those technologies we have a lot of positive experience with is the Liferay Digital Experience Platform (DXP), which has many times over allowed us to build and deliver very robust and compliant portals for our healthcare clients. Although a full implementation may not be instant — because it never can be — with external portal technology you will not only pass the CMS audits with flying colors, but you will have laid the foundation for your organization to continuously innovate within the ever evolving healthcare industry, and quickly rise above the rest of your direct competitors.

External portal solutions are able to provide healthcare organizations with personalized, cross-device user experiences out-of-the-box, handling the entire checklist of specialized requirements such as HIPAA compliance and digital security that can pass audits as well (a major bottleneck for new technology developed internally). For the good of their own reputations and bottom lines, not to mention the patients and providers using their services, healthcare organizations tasked with providing high quality experiences should absolutely be exploring more of what modern external portal solutions have to offer.

Alaaeldin El-Nattar is COO of Rivet Logic, an award-winning consulting, design and systems integration firm that helps leading organizations build riveting digital experiences.