What is the Patient Portal Fallacy?

I mentioned that I moved to Portland, Oregon. When I landed at PDX, I told my friend that the number of Republicans in Oregon had just doubled. If you’ve ever added a drop of oil to a solution of vinegar and water you may recall that the vinegar and water seemed to run away from the oil. I was Portland’s drop of oil, and no amount of shaking was going to result in a vinegarette.

Not all my meetings with health system leaders go as well as I might have hoped.  I was in the mode of part mad professor, part merry prankster. However, I tried to appear polite. I sat upright and placed my hands on my knees like I was sitting in a pew.

“You know what year it is, right? It’s the future.” I told the health system’s call center manager.

“As much as I might like to hear about the future you come from, I’ve got a hundred people on hold who want to talk to us.”

“Doesn’t that suggest that you have a problem?”

“No one knows if that’s something or nothing.”

“You should put those words on a patch for your employees to wear.  Like a motto on a scroll below two crossed question marks. Since you don’t have a CRM system if you need to call someone back, how do you find their number?” I asked her.

“We look them up in this phone book.”

“Why is the phone book on a chain?” I could tell she was getting tired of me interrogating her.

“People steal them. Don’t you remember the 70’s?”

I looked around at her call center.  “You appear to be very bright.  This is customer experience, it’s not like splitting the atom.  Judging from what I see here, this place is still waiting for the 70’s to arrive.”  Knowing that I was never going to get her to jump ahead even to the decade of faxes and pagers, and judging that my time had expired, I turned and ran for the door, lest I got swallowed up in healthcare’s version of Back to the Future, Part Deux.

So that was my day.

Many health systems believe their patient portal is a big step towards meeting the needs of consumers.  This chart should put that belief to rest.  Patient portals exclude most consumerism needs and experiences.  They exclude (RED)non-clinical needs, most of the people who have needs (non-patients), and when most of those needs occur.  And for those health systems who continue to believe that their call center is consumer friendly, the fourth pie-chart shows that the typical health system’s call center is closed three out of every four hours each week.

Patient Portal Failures

One thought on “What is the Patient Portal Fallacy?

  1. Re: “Patient portals exclude most consumerism needs and experiences.”

    Result: The organization boils in it’s own pudding

    Remedy: Map out the “full” customer journey and have a front-end smart-auto-attendant as the first point of contact that “knows”, via rules, when to effect a handoff and let’s make sure there is someone to pick up the phone before doing the handoff or the attendant asks for a phone number and gives an estimate of the callback time.

    Long term: Continuously tweak to handle and fix discovered deficiencies.

    Anything less is like jumping 3/4 the way across a cliff.

    Why can’t they do this?


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