5 Challenges of Building Your Own Healthcare Portal

Health plan portals were once seen as superfluous—a concession to a trend. But over the years, people grew used to managing more and more of their personal information, finances, and social lives online. Health plan portals became a necessity for plans that wanted to stay competitive in our digital world.

But whether you’re part of the few health plans that still don’t have portals, or you’re thinking about upgrading the one you have, every health plan has to decide: should we build our portal in-house, or build one with a vendor?

If you’re thinking about building on your own, here are five hurdles your organization will need to overcome.

1. Consumerism

Health plan portals are everywhere today because consumers expect more control over their personal information and want simpler interactions with companies. They don’t want to take 15 minutes or more to make a phone call and get passed from one person to the next, just to complete a basic transaction. They shouldn’t have to walk into an office to request their immunization records or get proof of their most recent physical.

Consumers don’t just expect health plans to have a portal. They expect to find all their information and documents online. And they expect to be able to complete basic transactions in your portal, so they don’t have to waste their time (or yours) with a phone call or in-person visit.

They also expect a health portal to look, feel, and function like it was made in the twenty-first century. If a health plan doesn’t dedicate the necessary resources or have the right expertise, it’s easy for them to create a health portal that looks dated.

Today’s health portals need to be mobile-friendly, so members don’t have to squint or zoom in order to read your text or fill out a field. They need to have a responsive design, meaning that your webpages adjust to fit the device your members use to access them.

If you can’t provide your members with a first-class experience online, then every time they need to interact with you, they’re going to feel like their entire health plan is outdated. And your competitors will have a very easy time showing them that there’s a better way to manage their care.

When you build your portal in-house, consumerism often demands a higher quality portal than you can create. Even if you hire a talented team and give them all the time they need, portal building is still not your primary focus, and the vendors your competitors are buying from are determined to build competitive member-facing tools. Their entire business depends on their ability to make better portals than you.

2. Time

The longer it takes to meet your standards, and more importantly, your members’ standards, the more that it costs you.

In-house development teams face the constant pressure of getting something out the door, but because they’re creating your portal from scratch, the whole process takes more time. You don’t want to rush your development team. Releasing a low-quality portal can have a lasting impact on your adoption rate and your brand’s image. And if your team neglects something important like cybersecurity or HIPAA compliance, it could cost you a lot more than a delay.

When you buy a health plan portal through a vendor, the hard part is already done. The portal is built. There’s a template in place. You just have to decide what it’s going to look like, and the vendor just has to hook you up to their platform. That takes far less time than starting the whole process from the beginning. (Which is part of the reason why it will probably cost you less.)

3. Cost

When you build your own portal, there are several costs you need to consider:

  • Staff
  • Infrastructure
  • Upkeep

If you aren’t going to rely on a vendor’s army of developers, systems administrators, database administrators, quality control testers, cybersecurity experts, and other professionals, you’re going to have to hire your own. Instead of paying a subscription to take advantage of a large dedicated team, you’re paying salaries and benefits for however many tech professionals you can afford—and tech pros don’t come cheap.

Building a portal system doesn’t just mean developing an excellent web-based technology either. In order for your members to access the portal and use your data in meaningful ways, you need a massive network of servers, routers, data centers, and security tech to support and maintain the system. (Oh, and more IT professionals to maintain your ballooning infrastructure.)

These aren’t just upfront costs, either. Your budget will feel the impact of your home-grown portal system every month. Those salaries will only increase, and you’ll need that whole team to keep your portal in tip-top shape 24/7. And that infrastructure will need to be replaced and upgraded as your tech grows outdated.

4. Cybersecurity

Healthcare organizations are incredibly vulnerable to cyber attacks. In 2015, 81 percent of healthcare executives said their organization had been attacked in the past two years. Another study found that the healthcare industry experiences cyberattacks 300 percent more than other industries.

Your data is immensely valuable. And HIPAA and other compliance standards legally require you to be more protective of your data than other industries. Still, health plans are consistently targeted, and they’re constantly proving how frail their cybersecurity really is.

When you build your own portal, 100 percent of the burden (and liability) of your cybersecurity falls on you. And while that may sound like a good thing, because it gives you complete control, it likely means your members are less secure.

How long do you think a health plan portal vendor would last if plans learned there were vulnerabilities in that vendor’s systems, and that its cybersecurity was outdated? They’d be out of business. Vendors have to maintain the highest level of security to stay competitive. That’s why vendors hire outside consultants to do penetration tests, meaning they pay people to try and breach security so they can stay ahead of the game.

Cybersecurity is an arms race against hackers. Hackers learn new methods to breach the latest defenses. Cybersecurity implements new defenses. Vendors are already entrenched in that arms race. And if you’re going to stay competitive and protect your members, you need to either get on board with a vendor or enter the race yourself.

5. Integration

One of the big reasons health plans choose to create their own portals is that they can’t find a vendor that already integrates with their tools. Integrations allow your various systems and programs to talk to each other, so you can give your members more functionality and create a more valuable portal.

But it takes a lot of time and expertise to create a platform that communicates with other healthcare tools. Every new integration makes your portal system more complex.

Even if a vendor doesn’t currently integrate with the tools you’re using, they likely have a lot of experience integrating their platform with other health information technology. At Healthx, we’ve integrated our tools with more health plans than anyone else.

If you build your own portal, your team will be starting from square one, trying to build a tool and integrate it with your other systems. That’s going to take more time (and money), and if they don’t have the experience, it may result in sloppy integrations.

So should you build a portal in-house?

Every health plan has to navigate this decision for themselves. Your organization’s unique circumstances are what will determine how doable it is to build your own portal system. Whether you build or buy, your health portal is a big investment, and your choice will have a huge impact on the future of your organization and the quality of your members’ care.

In our free ebook, Should You Build or Buy Your Health Plan Portal?, you’ll find questions every health plan needs to explore when making this important decision.

Stay tuned in the next two weeks for your copy of Should You DIY Your Health Plan Portal?