The classic conundrum that bubbles to the surface when defining a system roadmap over the longterm is the question of how much effort to dedicate to the rollout of visible new features, compared to the equally important yet invisible factors of performance, security and system stability. As with most systems too, the team needs to work within constraints of available personnel and resources and use these with a modicum of sound judgement. So the conversation on how best to proceed with PatientView’s evolution over time is an ongoing one, involving the core team of our medical director, product manager, local admins, support staff and of course the thousands of dedicated patients who make up our core user base.
The launch of PatientView 2.0 back in 2015 unlocked a host of new possibilities – and it felt as if we could finally be an active participant in the new digital age. Suddenly, the site looked and acted smartly on mobile phones and tablets. The aspirations to open up PatientView to all medical specialties or to customise it for specific rare disease groups, to launch a secure mobile app for iOS and Android complete with blood result notifications and the ability to snap and share photos/videos, were at last realised in the course of successive releases that followed.
The typical user comment on Facebook is how simple PatientView is to use now and how vital it is as part of their self-care routine. Meanwhile, the main worry expressed over time by clinical staff throughout the UK, that patients somehow need to be hand-held at all moments of their long term care plan, has melted away and been replaced by a genuine appreciation of how the service complements the sterling work that they already do. All parties benefit in terms of reducing the time and stress of repeated hospital visits, enhancing patient education about their own condition and helping patients to self manage better at home. And needless to say, being able to carry one’s own medical history in one’s pocket, having it ready to share with other doctors/ hospitals/ family members creates an instant information bridge that is priceless to all involved (anyone who has ever fumbled through reams of paper history will no doubt agree).
As the system has matured, our UK-wide user base continues to grow and the number of useful new features has mushroomed, both on the web and mobile platforms. This might have been a recipe for a situation where the weight of system usage would bring the service to its knees or the bug count would spiral out of control. As part of a steering team, there is on the one hand a desire to push out the cool new features thick and fast, but on the flip side one wants to avoid falling victim to the 6-8 year trap in the product lifecycle. Hence in order to maintain longevity, system maintenance cycles become a necessary factor in assuring the long term health of a system which is already highly functional and in essence “does what it ought to do”.
Coinciding as it has done with the implementation of European GDPR guidelines, and with regular penetration testing occurring in parallel, the latest maintenance cycle has allowed the team to achieve the following objectives, among many others:
- Ensuring internal and external processes align with GDPR guidelines
- Upgrading of the secure server environment, including significant boosts in memory and disk space
- Updating of core libraries throughout the PatientView codebase, while reducing major bug counts down to a handful
- Database analysis, partitioning and optimisation
- Streamlining and modernising the deploy process for system patches and new releases
Granted, the above will mean very little to most daily users, however much like structural or aesthetic preventative work on a building, delay it for long enough and things will invariably degrade. Do it correctly though, and you’ll be setting the system up on even firmer foundations, ready for the next growth and innovation cycle.
Returning to the title of the post – does the perfect patient portal exist? Well, given rapidly changing digital trends and the system maintenance conundrum, not to mention the complexity behind agreeing what this portal should actually look like (just ask the NHS!), the answer is we are probably not there yet, much as encouraging steps are being taken.
However, if one considers the service as being of crucial importance to our user’s daily lives, then all efforts will be made to ensure that PatientView not only achieves top marks for innovation over time, but just as importantly keeps ahead of the game in terms of security, stability and performance.