Strategies For Designing Better Patient Portals

Clare Bittourna

February 7, 2018

5 min read

It’s not hard to see the collision course that the tech industry and healthcare sector have been riding. From the biometric features of the latest Apple watch, to Amazon’s recently announced foray into the healthcare space, it’s clear that digital transformation in healthcare has been the driving force behind the industry for quite some time now.

But if that’s the case, why is it still so rare to see a well-designed, simple, holistically usable patient portal? How are we going to create satisfying experiences for the next generation of healthcare software development solutions, when few design agencies can master one of the earliest applications of web and medicine, the patient portal?

To answer the first question: the reason there’s so few well crafted patient portals is because designing any application in the healthcare space is a difficult task. It is an inherently complex industry, one that your average user has little familiarity with. And because many healthcare platforms, patient portals especially, handle sensitive medical information, it’s imperative these products have airtight security and remain HIPAA compliant.

So as a UX design agency with extensive experience building IT solutions for the healthcare sector, Codal’s designers decided to outline a few strategies to use when crafting engaging, helpful, and above all usable, patient portals.

Defining Users & Scope

While clearly defining both the platform’s users and scope is imperative in any project, it’s especially crucial for patient portals when you consider the accessibility challenges it presents. If it’s a patient portal for an ophthalmologist, you may be dealing with users who have poor vision or are colorblind. If it’s one where most of its users are elderly, you may want to avoid more modern web design conventions that these users could be unfamiliar with.

When outlining the scope, it’s necessary to conduct user research and stakeholder interviews to determine what features and functionalities your patients expect from the portal. For a more general patient platform, most of this research has already been conducted. One study found these six functions to be the most-requested features:



Depending on time and budget restraints, graphs like these can help determine what features are necessary for the initial release, and which ones can wait until later versions to be implemented. It’s also worth noting how many of these features not only positively affect the patient’s experience, but also the clinics—online appointment scheduling and bill payment can drastically decrease the workload on the clinician’s side of things.

Anticipating Pain Points & Frustrations

One reason there’s so few well-designed patient portals is because not enough resources are invested in the actual patient experience design. This is most evident when the aforementioned study also looked at patient’s top frustrations with their medical provider’s portal.



The leading frustration, a confusing interface, is best solved by consulting with a UX design company. But the other top reasons need to be taken into consideration as well. Two of the top four reasons, an ‘unresponsive staff’, and ‘delays posting clinical info’, suggest that these portals are only effective when the clinicians embrace them as well. By deliberately integrating the portal into everyday workflows, clinics not only improve the experience of their patients, but of their staff as well.

Actively Engaging Patients

The following chart is meant to illustrate the increased usage of patient portals over time, but it also reveals another telling conclusion: a significant number of patients aren’t even sure if their medical care providers have portals for them to access!



This is a serious problem, one where the onus of fixing it falls on the clinic. You could hire a web development agency to design the best portal in the world, but it won’t matter if your patients aren’t using it. The National Learning Consortium, a division of, outlines a few actions to promote and actively engage patients in your portal. These include:



By implementing these strategies, you can ensure your patients are aware of the portal, and directly improve their health care experience.

A Better Patient Portal

The healthcare industry is notorious for being slow to adopt the latest advancements in tech and digital design. It’s not hard to see why when you consider the slew of challenges presented by crafting a genuinely usable, engaging patient portal.

But by embracing the digitization of the sector, and committing to a better patient portal, you can position your company to benefit from the industry shift, rather than lagging behind. It’ll not only improve your operations and workflows, but will ultimately help deliver better care to your patients.

If you’re interested in seeing how a healthcare web design and development company like Codal can improve your patient portal, feel free to contact us. With extensive experience in the healthcare space, we know what it takes to help build out a healthier, smarter future.

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