Since the introduction of the Electronic Health Record (EHR) Incentive Program and Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS), surgical practices have been searching for digital healthcare solutions not just to prepare for looming reporting deadlines, but also to leverage the advantages that patient-accessible health technology can provide to their patients and practices.

Under the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA), the Electronic Health Record Incentive Program1 requires that healthcare providers can:

  1. allow patients to view, download, and transmit their health data
  2. allow patients to access their health data via an application programming interface (API)
  3. send or receive a summary of patient care from a third-party provider 
  4. provide patient education 
  5. send and answer direct messages, and
  6. collect patient-generated health data.2

With these objectives in mind, practices have been searching for one tool to rule them all, but they just aren’t finding that one solution that hits the mark. If you’re one of those practices, and you’re wondering if you’re missing something, you are not alone! One of the challenges we see is that the Electronic Health Record Incentive Program groups all of the requirements under one umbrella, when there are really 2 types of requirements here:   


So, let’s talk a little about the differences between patient access and patient engagement and how two different tools, the patient portal and the patient engagement platform, are designed to address each of those needs.

Patient portal versus patient engagement platform

Let’s first start with a definition. A patient portal, in general, is a patient-accessible website that stores patient information such as allergies, lab tests, clinical notes, and imaging reports and is often tethered to an EHR.3 A patient engagement platform (PEP) is a digital health app accessible on a computer, tablet, or mobile phone and has been designed to automate patient outreach while keeping patients engaged throughout their continuum of care.4

The key differentiators between the two tools are that a patient portal is “passive” and “general,” while a patient engagement platform is “active” and “specific.” The patient portal is an entry point to a digital healthcare experience. It typically provides patients with limited digital access into their electronic health records and results without patients needing to call a doctor’s office to access that information. The patient engagement platform, however, is really where the digital care experience gets taken to the next level. It’s the tool that gives patients helpful educational content about their specific conditions and the potential to connect directly with their support network and care providers. It is also a tool that healthcare providers can use to collect and monitor valuable patient engagement data and survey results. Patients are not just passively receiving information, but are actively participating in their own care by learning about ways to prepare for and manage their own care needs while providing regular feedback on their experiences and outcomes.

So, when should practices invest in a patient engagement platform? In the following table, we’ve highlighted what we think are some of the key differentiators and advantages of each tool to help practices decide which tool is right for them.


If your practice’s goals are leaning more towards engaging patients, it may be time to consider a patient engagement platform. But what specific features should you look for to make sure you’re ticking the most important boxes for enabling digital patient engagement?

What to look for in a patient engagement platform

There are many features to consider, but going back to the Electronic Health Record Incentive Program requirements, there are three fundamental components that patient engagement that technology needs to support:

  1. providing patient education
  2. sending and responding to direct messages
  3. collecting patient-generated health data
Patient education

One of the hallmarks of the patient engagement platform is the patient education medium. Look for a solution that automatically delivers content or directs patients to content at regular intervals to keep patients informed and engaged. As well, the ideal solution will allow you to edit and create your own content so that the information you deliver to patients matches your practice’s procedures and guidelines.  


As an example, the SparxConnect patient engagement platform provides a Resource library that has a unique timed-content feature so that content is automatically delivered to patients at regular intervals based on an important date, such as a surgery date. All of the content is completely editable so that you can create and change your content at any time.  

Direct messages and digital communication

Another important feature of a patient engagement platform is the ability for patients to digitally communicate with their providers, and vice versa. Be it through direct messages, broadcast messages, or video conferencing, look for a solution that offers an efficient way to communicate where you can choose the right medium for the message. 



For digital communication, the SparxConnect platform offers a chat feature that allows you to send automated or live responses to patient chats, based on your staff’s availability and the chat supports media attachments so that patients can snap a quick photo for fast, digital feedback. The SparxConnect platform also has a video meeting feature so that if needed, your team can schedule quick, virtual follow-ups right in the app. For general updates from the clinic, such as closures or parking information, SparxConnect has a broadcast feature that works like a social media post so that timely information can be delivered to all patients in your practice at once. 

Patient-generated health data

Last but certainly not least, the platform must offer a digital method for collecting health outcomes or feedback from patients.  Once data is collected, the solution should allow you to aggregate, visualize, and export the data to support research, accreditation, reimbursement, or clinical improvement.

2301_Patient generated health data

SparxConnect offers an easy-to-use survey interface for digital feedback to collect health outcomes, pain scores, and patient experiences. All aspects of survey distribution, reminders, and cancellations can be automated based off an important date, and automation rules only need to be set once and will be automatically applied to new patients as they are added to the platform. At any time, you can easily view or export all survey data.  

Going beyond meeting the requirements

The best patient engagement platform is one that patients will actually use, so it’s important that the solution not only meets the minimum engagement requirements but offers simplicity and flexibility in terms of how patients will use it. For example, look for a product that provides a simple sign-up process, is available on any smartphone, tablet, or computer, and has a customizable notification feature so that it can seamlessly fit into a patient’s day-to-day life.  

It is also crucial that the solution fits within your practice’s current workflows and resources but offers the ability to level up its patient interaction capabilities once your practice is ready. For example, you may wish to only to start with patient educational resources, but have the option to add chat or video in the future. The solution should minimize manual effort and drive automation, so look for a product that offers automation, interoperability, and the ability to share data with your existing health systems. 


Great patient engagement experiences set practices apart

Engagement is becoming increasingly important to patients with 82% saying that quality customer service is the most important factor they consider when choosing care and 62% stating that good communication and continuous engagement mattered the most.5 When it’s done right, patient engagement will not only drive better health outcomes, it will be the reason a patient chooses and refers your practice.   

To learn more about SparxConnect and the other features it can offer to support your patient engagement initiatives, visit:




3. Irizarry T, DeVito Dabbs A, Curran CR. Patient Portals and Patient Engagement: A State of the Science Review. J Med Internet Res. 2015 Jun 23;17(6):e148. doi: 10.2196/jmir.4255. PMID: 26104044; PMCID: PMC4526960.

4. Campbell K, Louie P, Levine B, Gililland J. Using Patient Engagement Platforms in the Postoperative Management of Patients. Curr Rev Musculoskelet Med. 2020 Aug;13(4):479-484. doi: 10.1007/s12178-020-09638-8. PMID: 32388724; PMCID: PMC7340698.