Health Affairs: Pet medical portals designed better than human ones

Online patient portals for people would be easier to use and used more often if they were designed more like portals created for pets, according to a new post in the Health Affairs Blog.

The post, written by José Pagán, director of the Center for Health Innovation at the New York Academy of Medicine, notes that the Web portal provided by the veterinarian for his family's pets uses large readable fonts, is easy to navigate, includes a dashboard and allows for the uploading of photographs. It also enables online interaction with the veterinary practice and includes a list of suggested questions for the next visit. 

In contrast, he says, the Web portal provided by his physician is somewhat useful, but outdated and cluttered.

While Pagán acknowledges that, to some extent, patient portal design is constrained by legal and regulatory barriers, format and style still could be improved. He also notes that a portal design process that's focused on technological solutions rather than what consumers need is "backwards" and "unlikely to appeal" to people, which means that they won't use them.

"People who design web portals for pet medical information--and many others designing online consumer web interfaces--seem to have a much better understanding of their users as customers," Pagán says. "If a web portal is deemed by users to be confusing, complicated, or inconvenient, these consumers can take their money elsewhere. For some healthcare products and services, we still do not fully see patients as customers, perhaps because the likelihood that patients will take their money elsewhere is relatively low."

He also calls consumer engagement "critical" to improving portal usability, noting that the proposed changes to the Meaningful Use program, which soften the patient engagement requirements, have been criticized by consumer advocates.

This is not the first time that concerns have been voiced about the poor design of patient portals and other health IT.  Many patients are willing to use patient portals, but are stymied by their lack of usability.

To learn more:
- read the blog post