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10 Ways to Screw Up Your Patient Portal


When it comes to electronic health records, having a patient portal is only half the battle. The bigger challenge is making it useful for your patients.


Patient portals are supposed to provide patients access to their EMR information and make it easier to interact with their doctors. They are touted as an important weapon in the patient engagement arsenal. Many just misfire.

Here are 10 ways to screw up your patient portal:

1. Make sure your doctors don't respond to messages in a timely fashion or don't use it at all.

2. Make sure that patients who don't use English as their primary language won't be able to use it.

3. Make sure someone can hack into it.

4. Make sure that when a doctor is on vacation or absent, that no one else is on “responder call.”

5. Make sure patients have to periodically sign into it, with a username and password they will forget or can't share with caregivers, to get updated messages or appointment reminders.

6. Make sure you give patients the run around when they ask for prescription refills or respond to a request for a drug, like Ambien (generic name zolpidem) for jet lag, with “I'm sorry, but your doctor has not seen you in several years so you will have to make an appointment (and spend time and money to do so) before we can approve that.” Maybe I should ask Rick Steves where he gets his. Maybe I need a CAT scan to determine whether I should be using it. Silly me, I thought the whole point was to avoid seeing doctors.

7. Make sure the information on the site is incorrect and the numbers listed send you to phone tree hell.

8. Never, ever have a chat function (you know that thing you can do on most eCommerce sites) so you can communicate with someone in real time.

9. Be sure everyone has strict, rigid scripts, rules, and protocols.

10. Treat your patients like patients, not patient/consumers/clients/users/customers.

Sign up now, and be one of the less than 5% of our patients who use it and find it to be a pleasant patient experience. Most of our doctors won't, so why not be an innovator or early adopter?

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice