Patient portals have a lot of room for improvement as evidenced by the fact that providers do not have a high level of enthusiasm for their organizations’ current offerings from vendors.

That is the conclusion of the just–released 2014 Patient Portal Study from HIMSS Analytics, its first “Essentials Brief” to focus on patient engagement, which HIMSS Analytics Research Director Brendan FitzGerald says is “more than just today’s hot topic—it is foundational to the future of healthcare.”

The report, which explore providers’ experiences with meaningful use Stage 2 patient engagement criteria, is based on insights from 125 U.S. hospitals and healthcare system IT executives with data from the HIMSS Analytics database.

While the findings of the report “paint a positive picture of providers’ familiarity with MU2 requirements and current capabilities to satisfy these criteria” and the “adoption trajectory of patient portals suggests a growing market,” HIMSS Analytics warns that “there appears to be room for improvement from the patient portal solutions offered to the market as respondents were not necessarily passionate about their current solution.”

As the report points out, patient portals typically come from the electronic health records vendors currently used by healthcare organizations and “much of this growth seems to be facilitated by the availability of patient portal solutions” offered by EHR vendors. However, HIMSS Analytics reveals that “feedback from IT leaders also suggests some areas of concern surrounding patient engagement efforts. IT leaders for example, are not necessarily ‘sold’ on the benefits of MU2 especially for clinicians.”

Part of the problem, according to these IT leaders, is that cultural issues (e.g. attitudes towards one’s role) within organizations are major challenges to overall patient engagement initiatives. “While the perceived magnitude of these challenges can be diminished by having a patient engagement strategic plan in place, these findings are disconcerting given the fact many hospitals lean on IT leaders to drive the organization’s patient engagement efforts,” states the report. “Leading an effort one finds difficult to defend/support or that typically lies outside of an IT leaders domain of experience/expertise can be extremely difficult, especially when the effort has the potential to negatively impact key hospital stakeholders (e.g. physicians).”

And, when it comes to patient portal functionality, the report found that limited functions are being utilized by organizations. While nearly two-thirds (65.8 percent) of hospitals that have a patient portal installed use it for bill payment, providing patients access to diagnostic results (23.2 percent) and their personal health record (22.5 percent) is limited.

“Notwithstanding the challenges these issues present, healthcare organizations are positively leaning towards implementing patient engagement efforts,” concludes HIMSS Analytics.

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