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Making patient portals more value-driven with AI

(Image credit: Image Credit: Computerizer / Pixabay)

Healthcare is becoming a data-driven sector, similar to finance and insurance. There is a lot of medical data connected to each person: their electronic healthcare records (EHR), data from wearables, scans, on-the-spot measurements like glucose and blood pressure. All these individual puzzle pieces can tell the story of a person’s health state, but only when they are well-organized and accessible; otherwise it is just noise. This is where patient portals can play a key role, and artificial intelligence can further enhance their value proposition.

Patient portals at a glance

A patient portal is a generic name for websites, apps, or other platforms used to connect patients with medical providers, insurance companies, and relevant stakeholders in the healthcare industry. Each actor can find the information they need in this 24/7 accessible environment.

The primary role of the portal is to aggregate the information made available by a provider for their customers and partners.

So far, while more and more organisations are adopting patient portals, these tools are yet to gain patients’ full acceptance, in part by becoming more user-friendly. Studies show that less than 20 per cent of patients use portals. Even when they log in, they tend to do trivial things like checking their appointment time or rescheduling it.

The goal is to make the patient portal a central digital hub for care delivery. Portals need to be easily accessible via smartphones, provide a simple interface, and make connections between different data sources to offer users a one-stop-shop for managing their well-being.

Benefits for patients

From the patient’s perspective, a portal is useful only if it offers convenience.

MBicycle experts comment that AI is an integral ingredient here, the one for providing a frictionless experience. This can be attained over time, thanks to the learning abilities of the platform. However, it also means that the best results are achieved after the same patient uses the portal repeatedly. Developers can convince people to do this by applying a gamification approach.

Once the AI-based platform gains enough information, it can boost convenience in one of the following ways.

Smart appointment scheduling: One of the primary functions of the portal is to help patients find a convenient time to visit their doctors. In the past, the patient had to call the clinic to make an appointment. Now, they can just log into the portal instead.

The first enhancement AI can bring is related to the way the patient interacts with the platform. It can replace the point-and-click approach with messaging embedded in the patient’s preferred app such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. Once the medical appointment is set, the system conveniently messages the patient to remind them about the visit coming up.

Another way AI can help with this task is to auto-schedule visits when lab results are due, as well as to handle cancelations if necessary.

Drug management: Busy lives sometimes make people forget to take medication or renew their prescriptions on time. This can be dangerous for chronically ill patients with life-threatening conditions like diabetes or cardiac diseases. An intelligent patient portal can keep track of the medication intake, give reminders when the patient did not log into the portal to mark their drug usage, or alert family.

A chatbot can also act as a personal assistant that answers the patient’s questions about side effects, interactions, and their overall health impact. This kind of tool can be the first line of help when patients have concerns about their medication.

Insurance claim processing: Using a health portal can help patients monitor the status of their claims, payments, and other information related to health insurance. Most portals accept online payments, thus making the users’ lives easier.

Enhancing the software with AI means that it can recommend the best service providers depending on the patient’s condition, taking into consideration the type of insurance they have and the clinics that have valid contracts and the right specialists on board. 

Advantages for health providers

Not only patients benefit from a smart portal. Medical staff, including doctors, nurses and support personnel can get a lot off their plate too.

Payment and paperwork: People would be amazed to learn that doctors spend less than a third of their time seeing patients but almost half of their working day doing paperwork. This sounds like a terrible misbalance, and AI can definitely help correct it.

Patient portals automate billing and insurance claim processing. Before AI, these tasks were done either by the doctor or specialised assistants. Manual processing means more time, opportunities for errors, and higher payroll costs.

AI can also handle the updates of the patient’s medical records after each visit. Natural language processing capabilities of modern systems allows doctors to dictate their observations to the AI assistant and then only double-check for accuracy instead of typing everything themselves.

This data will be stored safely in the cloud and available to any other health professional from the same medical unit or authorised remote specialists.

Tailor-made care: The good news for both doctors and patients using an AI-powered healthcare portal is that there is more time for face-to-face interaction and advice. This leads to an increased standard of medical services during the visit.

When the patient leaves the doctor’s office, this high standard of care can be carried on with the help of the portal. For simple questions, the doctors can pre-load answers in the FAQ section or into the chatbot. The platform can also include documentation about best post-discharge practices.

Potential issues and future developments           

The main problems in this area are related to patient data privacy and security. Users have to know that the systems are safe to trust and use them. Right now, less than half (42 per cent) of patients are comfortable with their doctors using AI, 55 per cent are open to virtual visits, and 60 per cent are ready to grant access to their wearables data if this helps with the treatment efficiency.

These percentages will increase as people grow accustomed and the systems get perfected. The current problem with AI development is that in the majority of cases, a human operator needs to take over to verify and act on the AI-driven results. Still, the combination of patient portals and intelligent technologies can bring a long-awaited boost in care delivery optimisation.

Stepan Shablinsky, Lead Software Engineer, MBicycle (opens in new tab)

Stepan Shablinsky is Lead Software Engineer at MBicycle with 7+ years of hands-on experience in building enterprise applications in such domains as Healthcare, Financial Services, Insurance, Public Sector, and Information Technology.