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The organizational dynamics enabling patient portal impacts upon organizational performance and patient health: a qualitative study of Kaiser Permanente

Patient portals may lead to enhanced disease management, health plan retention, changes in channel utilization, and lower environmental waste. However, despite growing research on patient portals and their effects, our understanding of the organizational dynamics that explain how effects come about is limited. This paper uses qualitative methods to advance our understanding of the organizational dynamics that influence the impact of a patient portal on organizational performance and patient health. The study setting is Kaiser Permanente, the world’s largest not-for-profit integrated delivery system, which has been using a portal for over ten years. We interviewed eighteen physician leaders and executives particularly knowledgeable about the portal to learn about how they believe the patient portal works and what organizational factors affect its workings. Our analytical framework centered on two research questions. (1) How does the patient portal impact care delivery to produce the documented effects?; and (2) What are the important organizational factors that influence the patient portal’s development? We identify five ways in which the patient portal may impact care delivery to produce reported effects. First, the portal’s ability to ease access to services improves some patients’ satisfaction as well as changes the way patients seek care. Second, the transparency and activation of information enable some patients to better manage their care. Third, care management may also be improved through augmented patient-physician interaction. This augmented interaction may also increase the ‘stickiness’ of some patients to their providers. Forth, a similar effect may be triggered by a closer connection between Kaiser Permanente and patients, which may reduce the likelihood that patients will switch health plans. Finally, the portal may induce efficiencies in physician workflow and administrative tasks, stimulating certain operational savings and deeper involvement of patients in medical decisions. Moreover, our analysis illuminated seven organizational factors of particular importance to the portal’s development–and thereby ability to impact care delivery: alignment with financial incentives, synergy with existing IT infrastructure and operations, physician-led governance, inclusive decision making and knowledge sharing, regional flexibility to implementation, continuous innovation, and emphasis on patient-centered design. These findings show how organizational dynamics enable the patient portal to affect care delivery by summoning organization-wide support for and use of a portal that meets patient needs.

Authors: Otte-Trojel T; Rundall TG; de Bont A; van de Klundert J; Reed ME

BMC Health Serv Res. 2015;15:559. Epub 2015-12-16.

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