Patient portals have gained significant attention from healthcare providers as Stage 2 Meaningful Use requires eligible professionals ensure at least 5% of patients view, download or transmit their electronic health records. The impact of the patient portal is significant because it leads to a more engaged and activated patient. A recent KLAS Research study found that more than half of surveyed health systems, hospitals and clinics had patient portals of some kind. Health Affairs also published a 2011 study showing 14% of physicians used personal health records daily and that 25% had done so within the previous month. Organizations like Cleveland Clinic and Kaiser Permanente have PHRs that are part of provider based patient portals providing access to patient data. Over the past several years PHRs and patient portals have become increasingly synonymous while providers are demonstrating success with these tools.

Kaiser Permanente’s patient portal registration increased to 27% of its membership when they added functions such as online test results and the ability to e-mail a doctor’s office. Researchers reported that the portal features that Kaiser members feel are most important include: connectivity with their care teams, access to information that helps them makes better health decisions, the ability to view key components of their health records and conduct clinical transactions online. These results are important due to the numerous studies demonstrating that more activated patients result in better outcomes and lower cost.

As providers and patients embrace online access to their health information a number of patient portal vendors have emerged. A KLAS survey of 104 providers found that 57% already have a patient portal in place with the largest vendors including Cerner, Epic, Intuit Health, Jardogs, MEDSEEK, NextGen, and RelayHealth. With the growing demand for patient portals there is increased concern among vendors about their intellectual property and potential infringement from competitors. The most recent patent announcement came from WebMD and MyMedical Records (MMR). The two organizations have entered into an agreement attempting to resolve potential infringement on MMR’s PHR and patient portal patent portfolio. The same announcement also mentioned that MMR initiated service of its patent infringement complaint filed against Jardogs LLC, one of the firms researched in the KLAS study.

It’s yet to be seen how the MMR IP negotiations will play out but other tech giants like McKesson, Google and Apple have been involved in patent suits resulting in settlements in the 100s of millions of dollars. With the health IT industry continuing it’s accelerated growth, patent infringement among vendors will become an increasingly important area of focus.