Bad healthcare tech of the day: Boston Children’s Hospital patient portal

By | November 20, 2023

I want to talk about the terrible experience I just had checking in online for my son’s upcoming appointment at Boston Children’s Hospital, because it’s chock full of bad UX design decisions, poor UX, and shitty tech.

Here’s the blow-by-blow of what happened…

The link in the email inviting me to check in doesn’t take me to a check-in screen; rather, it takes me to their portal home page. I have to create a portal account before I can check in. It’s user-hostile and dumb to require a portal account for on-line check-in.

It gets worse. I can’t check in online, because that requires adding my son as a patient associated with my portal account, which I can’t do without a token or record number for him provided by the hospital, and they didn’t provide it in the email they sent me. So I’m blocked until the next morning, when I have to call them on the phone to get a token or record number.

When I call them, they ask me for his name and birth date and then give me his record number so I can register him. That didn’t have to be a phone call. Why doesn’t their portal allow me to enter the appropriate identifying information to register him? There are certainly other provider portals that allow that. Forcing me to make a phone call to complete this task is stupid and user-hostile.

Once I have the record number I go back to the portal and enter the record number and date of his next appointment, which brings me to a page where I’m supposed to specify his name, birth date, and address to add him to my account. I enter the requested information and click the submit button, and… I end up back on the same page, with all of my input cleared, and no indication that adding him to my portal account worked.

I try again, with the same result. I try in a private browsing window, with the same result. I try in an entirely different browser, with the same result. Finally, after several such attempts, I receive an email informing me that my son has been added to my account, even though nothing in the web app ever indicated success. This is just mind-bogglingly stupid and poor UX.

Now that I’ve successfully added my son to my portal account, I go through the online check-in process. The flow through the process is filled with all sorts of poor UX behaviors, too many to enumerate all of them, culminating with a final indignity: after completing the check-in process, I am brought to a blank page rather than a page confirming that I’ve checked in my son successfully. I have to navigate back to the portal home page and go to the visits page again to confirm it worked.

I’m dragging on Children’s Hospital here because I just had to deal with them, but the truth is that over the years I’ve encountered a couple of good healthcare online user experiences and many more incredibly bad ones.

I hope there is the equivalent of Civic Tech for healthcare and that somewhere there are people building better healthcare tech, because we deserve better than this, especially from flagship institutions like Children’s.

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