My #BlueButton Patient Journey: Where Are the Smiley Faces?

Posted on January 22, 2014 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

Smiley faces and patient payment barriers were on my mind yesterday as I spent a few minutes in the patient portals I use (powered by Cerner, and athenahealth, in case you’re interested). I’ll get to my thoughts on user experience in a sec.

First, an update on the Blue Button Connector, which I may have explained in an earlier post. The Connector is an ONC-powered website that will offer consumers an easy way to find providers, payers and other healthcare organizations that participate in the Blue Button initiative. It will also offer developers a way to access Blue Button + technology, “a blueprint for the structured and secure transmission of personal health data on behalf of an individual consumer. It meets and builds on the view, download and transmit requirements in Meaningful Use Stage 2 for certified EHR technology,” according to the ONC.

Originally slated for debut in mid-January of this year, ONC has let it be known that it will delay the release so that when it does go live, it will work well. I’m sure I don’t have to point out the recent events that likely prompted this decision. I’m all in favor of delay to ensure everything works well. A beta version is expected to launch just before or at HIMSS. I may have to reach out to the folks at ONC to see about getting an invite to participate. Stay tuned.

Now, back to my user experience with one of my patient portals. I recently logged into the athenahealth-powered portal to cancel an upcoming appointment. It seemed easy enough to schedule a new appointment, but there was no button or quick link to cancel. I sent a secure message through the portal to the appointment department noting my need to cancel. Because it was less than 24 hours until said appointment, I also called the office as a point of courtesy to make sure they knew of my request. The receptionist who answered told me that sending a message to cancel an appointment is the best option through the portal, as that prompts staff to get back in touch with patients to see if they need to reschedule. A valid point, I thought. I realized not long after that call that I’ll need to reschedule an appointment with a different provider, as my current one is during HIMSS. Hopefully rescheduling will be just as painless.

My recent encounter with the Cerner-powered portal was almost just as painless, leaving me with three observations to share. The first being that I messaged my provider and was pleased to get a response back first thing the next morning. The second being that I attempted to look into a payment balance through said portal, but was put off by the fact that the portal directed me to a third-party site for which I have to set up another account. I wonder why the payment/billion function isn’t embedded into the portal. I’m sure there are underlying reasons patients aren’t aware of, but it sure would be a nice value-add. Unfortunately, I’m the type of patient who, when I encounter a barrier to payment, will set the bill aside and let it languish far longer than it needs to.

And the third being that I, as someone with no medical training, would far prefer smiley faces to numbers when it comes to lab results. Let me explain. Here is what I’m greeted with when I first log into the portal:

portalstats

These numbers don’t mean much, as I’m not aware of what levels are appropriate for my age, weight, height, etc. I think it would be much easier to understand if a smiley or frowny face were placed next to each number, with a small link to some sort of resource that could help me better understand each figure. I think perhaps we tend to overcomplicate things since we have so much technology at our fingertips. At the end of the day, as a patient, I want fast access to my portal and easy to understand information within it.

What are your thoughts on patient portal user experience? Have you seen any emoticons used in clinical settings? Let me know your thoughts via the comments below.