Why Is Online Patient Access A Myth?

Two weeks ago Washington announced an agreement in principle with our new best friends Iran to slow Iran’s ability to build nuclear weapons.  I thought we wanted to stop Iran’s ability to have a nuclear weapon, but I was not invited to the meetings.  This week’s television coverage shows a US aircraft carrier shadowing an Iranian ship which is bringing weapons to Yemen’s bad guys the Houthis, the same bad guys who overthrew the US embassy.  Perhaps, since both the Iranians and the US will already be in the Gulf of Aden, the nuclear treaty could be signed on the US aircraft carrier, and the Iranians could cater the affair.  It is only Wednesday, and my gene for being cynical just clicked into overdrive.

The upbeat news however is that on Sunday a 124-pound woman at the Big Texan Stake Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, ate three 72-ounce steaks in twenty minutes, throttling her male competitors—her prior claim-to-fame was consuming 363 chicken wings in 30 minutes. (video link– http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/20/living/steak-eating-contest-molly-schuyler-feat/index.html)

Even though healthcare expenditures are not discretionary, customer satisfaction—as measured by the ACSI, not HCAHPS—dropped in 2014.  According to patients, satisfaction for ambulatory services is better than that for hospital services “by a significant margin”, the biggest drop being from outpatient services.

And just to keep things interesting, website satisfaction for both ambulatory care and acute care are below the average website satisfaction of all industries, and on par with the phone companies.  The only industries whose website satisfaction is below those for providers are health insurance and cable television, and provider website satisfaction only beats those two industries by one and two points respectively, an accomplishment that is not worth celebrating.  At least on the websites of cable television operators their customers still have the luxury of subscribing to HBO without having to speak with someone.

The websites of almost every health system have one major thing in common—they are essentially all the same.  Judging by the uniform functionality, I could be convinced America’s health systems built their websites using the same Wix.com healthcare template.  Their only real differences are the aesthetics of each site.  The colors differ, as does the placement of the common links, but if you’ve visited one hospital’s website, you’ve essentially visited them all.

Usually there is are links for finding a doctor, employees, physicians—they get their own link, careers, donations, locations, videos, baby photos, paying your bill, and if you search long enough you may be able to find the link for patients.  There are also dozens of phone numbers—roulette dialing for a solution.  You may even find a few links that are disguised to make you believe you can complete a task online, links like scheduling an appointment, though they don’t actually let you schedule an appointment.

On the homepage of the website of one major health system in Arizona there are more than 230 links from which to choose.  The average person spends seven seconds on a webpage before giving up.  What chance is there of finding the one link you want if you have to view 230 choices?

There are plenty of things to read on a health system’s website, but there are very few things for a visitor to do other than read.  When I go to a company’s website, I go there to accomplish something. I go there because I do not want to have to call the company.

When I want to read something I buy a book.

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