Options for Patient Portals

Other than features, there are important considerations for patient portals. Dentists looking to move towards a paperless office and improve the patient experience may consider using patient portals. But the source of that portal matters.

At the moment, there are really three scenarios for patient portals:

  • Portals that are add-ons to existing systems, created by a vendor with many offerings.
  • Third party Partner portals, where an external company partners with a vendor to provide the additional service.
  • Pure third party portals, those that are offered by portal companies without having a close relationship with the software vendor.

The first situation is what most practices have gone with in the short-term; working with an existing vendor means that the relationship is understood and the interface between systems is usually very strong and easy for the dental practice to use. The integration and interfacing of data is handled by the vendor and is usually seamless.

However, partner portals and third party portals can offer much more feature-rich patient portals. In addition, from the patient perspective, they can be easier to use and thus have higher utility for patient care and data collection. In some cases Third party portals may be more innovative.

So when considering how to select a portal for your EHR software, potential long term integration considerations may help to swing the decision. A key concern for third party (and even partner) portals is about integration and updates. If the software vendor changes data fields, will the interface between the patient portal and the practice’s software fail? If that happens, what can you do? How quickly? What happens to the data?

At one time, I was working with a healthcare group that wanted to use a feature-rich, third-party portal. I called up the portal vendor and asked about integration with the practice’s EHR vendor. The portal company told me that they were partners, and had the interfacing – code to the vendor application, which meant that the portal would seamlessly integrate with the other software. I then called up the EHR vendor, who told me that they had severed all ties with that portal company when they had released their own vendor patient portal.

A feature-rich, easy for patients to use portal may be a good option; but be aware of the relationship between the software vendor and the portal company, and understand even a good relationship can go sour.


Michael Uretz is a thirty-year healthcare IT veteran and nationally-recognized Electronic Health Records (EHR) and healthcare software expert.