Another epic fail: My patient portal doesn’t remember me

Last week, I went to the hospital for a follow-up scan. I had my first scan in May, right after an OB-GYN appointment. I was excited, way back then, because I got my first invite to a patient portal. The experience was disappointing and this latest visit reinforced my earlier assessment: The system sucks. I […]

Last week, I went to the hospital for a follow-up scan. I had my first scan in May, right after an OB-GYN appointment. I was excited, way back then, because I got my first invite to a patient portal.

The experience was disappointing and this latest visit reinforced my earlier assessment: The system sucks.

I went to registration and scanned my driver’s license at the check-in kiosk. The hospital system already has my license, insurance card, email address and patient records on file. I still got a “Do you want to sign up for our patient portal?” promotion as I checked in. I said yes, just to see what would happen. A couple days later I got a fresh email invite to sign up.

What is my unique identifier in this system? I understand that email address is not a good choice, but what about driver’s license number or address or whatever number the hospital system has ALREADY assigned to me? If I come back next week for another test, will I get a third invite to join the system?

Maybe I should use this new invitation, because I forgot my password for my original account. And guess what? The password reset system doesn’t work (yes, I looked in my spam folder). The system did not recognize my email address, even though I have used the portal several times already to trade emails with my OB-GYN. Incredible. I wonder how many accounts I could set up with one email address? Apparently I need only to create a unique user name each time.

As I moved to the human portion of the registration process, the woman asked me for a primary care doctor. I admitted I didn’t have one and she suggested I use the patient portal to find one. I said, “I already have an account through my OB-GYN. If I use another provider in your network, will she be able to access all the tests I’ve already had done?” The woman looked uncertain and a little guilty, “I really don’t know.”

She admitted she was not using the portal either and had heard it “sort of works.” Apparently her source had even lower expectations than I did.

Hospitals have to understand that a good online experience is a big part of consumerization of health. People expect these portals to work, and they know it can be done because they’ve seen good websites in action. If a bank or a food co-op or an online craft marketplace can keep track of account details and purchase history, a hospital system needs to be able to do the same. As soon as people can start voting with their feet, they will take their healthcare dollars to physicians and other caregivers who can manage information in the 21st century.