Versaform Systems Corporation is part of the VSS Medical Group

Practical Patient Portals for Better VDT

Meaningful Use Stage 2 this year introduces the core requirement for participating hospitals and physicians to provide ways for patients to access their personal health information online. Specific and separate targets are set for patients to View, Download, and Transmit (VDT) their health data. In other words, practices and hospitals must provide a way for patients to use the Internet to VDT their information.

This is often achieved using a dedicated web site, known as a patient portal. However, not all portals are created equal. Some are poorly laid out and confusing. Some use illegibly small fonts and navigation. Some bury important relevant information so deep inside the portal they make it hard for visitors to easily find the data they require. Some use unnecessarily complex and convoluted verbiage that makes comprehension difficult for most, and particularly so for those of limited education, reading ability, or undergoing a wide range of medical treatments.

The challenge for any portal is to make the patient experience simple enough for non-technical patients to use, while at the same time protecting their security. This is not easy. Think of the many web sites you personally visit. Think which are a joy to visit, and then think of those that frustrate and confuse, the ones you swear you will never return to. More so than any other demographic, site accessibility should be considered a priority for your patients. And for your own bottom line.

Take for one practical example a patient with poor eyesight. It is important that that patient is able to read the pages they visit. Large, clear text will help here. Sites can also be coded specifically to enable their pages to be read aloud screen reading programs. Use of drop down menus rather than type-in-text fields will assist those with dexterity, dyslexia, or other issues. Use of point-click date entries will speed things along, ensure correct data input, and also make things easier for the user. In the example of patients with behavioral or mental health issues, clarity of text and clearly laid out content will prove invaluable. Do not overcomplicate unnecessarily. All these small things combine to turn an annoyingly frustrating patient portal into one that is a pleasure to visit, one that will encourage your patients to use it and keep coming back.

Simply providing a portal is not sufficient. Getting patients to visit your portal is not sufficient. To meet those all-important VDT requirements, practices and hospitals need to ensure that their visitors can go beyond the first page and successfully view, download, and transmit the information they came in search of. If they cannot, or do not, MU Stage 2 VDT requirements will not have been achieved no matter how many patients actually visit the portal. And this will cost your organization some valuable incentive payments.

Re-examine your patient portal through the eyes of your patients to determine what can be done to rework and redesign your patient portal to better suit their needs, and you will maximize patient usage and thereby your VDT numbers.