Hospital portal helps MD-patient communication

Finding ways to get patients and doctors collaborating online has always made sense. The problem is, many Internet-based doctor-patient communications efforts have been hampered by awkward website interfaces, back-end systems integration problems or worse, plain old doctor and patient apathy. At Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), however, executives have put a system into place seems to have dealt with many of these obstacles. "Our theory is that a lot of communication between doctors and patients can happen online, asynchronously," says BIDMC CEO Paul Levy.

After a few years of growth--the site was launched in 2001--BIDMC's new PatientSite portal (see a demo here) seems to have its act together. The site offers a nicely clean front door interface, keeps patient registration relatively simple, and most importantly, offers content that its user community actually wants to use. Among other features, the site gives patients an Outlook-like calendar list reminding them of upcoming appointments, gives them access to test results online and allows them to order prescriptions. The system can even route prescriptions to the patient's neighborhood pharmacy. On the physician side, doctors can customize the site to give patients whatever information he or she wishes, such their scheduled hours, lab results, clinical results and the like.

Despite the system's age, patient uptake is still far from universal. To date, roughly 25 percent of enrolled patients share clinical information with their provider, though a much smaller 4 percent made prescription requests online, and only 2 percent of registered patients made appointment or referral requests. Still, 35 to 40 percent of enrolled patients do log in each month, and roughly 20 to 30 percent of those patients look at clinical results or other medical information. The kicker, for me, is how much all of this cost, and Levy's apparently not telling. I have little doubt many millions of development dollars were involved. Still, the functionality built in here is definitely future-looking, so I have no doubt BIDMC will richly recoup its investment over time.

To learn more about BIDMC's portal:
- read Levy's blog entry