Improvement and Evaluation of the TOPCOP Taxonomy of Patient Portals: Taxonomy-Evaluation-Delphi (TED) Approach

J Med Internet Res. 2021 Oct 5;23(10):e30701. doi: 10.2196/30701.


Background: Patient portals have been introduced in many countries over the last 10 years, but many health information managers still feel they have too little knowledge of patient portals. A taxonomy can help them to better compare and select portals. This has led us to develop the TOPCOP taxonomy for classifying and comparing patient portals. However, the taxonomy has not been evaluated by users.

Objective: This study aimed to evaluate the taxonomy's usefulness to support health information managers in comparing, classifying, defining a requirement profile for, and selecting patient portals and to improve the taxonomy where needed.

Methods: We used a modified Delphi approach. We sampled a heterogeneous panel of 13 health information managers from 3 countries using the criterion sampling strategy. We conducted 4 anonymous survey rounds with qualitative and quantitative questions. In round 1, the panelists assessed the appropriateness of each dimension, and we collected new ideas to improve the dimensions. In rounds 2 and 3, the panelists iteratively evaluated the taxonomy that was revised based on round 1. In round 4, the panelists assessed the need for a taxonomy and the appropriateness of patient engagement as a distinguishing concept. Then, they compared 2 real portals with the final taxonomy and evaluated its usefulness for comparing portals, creating an initial requirement profile, and selecting patient portals. To determine group consensus, we applied the RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method.

Results: The final taxonomy consists of 25 dimensions with 65 characteristics. Five new dimensions were added to the original taxonomy, with 8 characteristics added to already existing dimensions. Group consensus was achieved on the need for such a taxonomy to compare portals, on patient engagement as an appropriate distinguishing concept, and on the comprehensibility of the taxonomy's form. Further, consensus was achieved on the taxonomy's usefulness for classifying and comparing portals, assisting users in better understanding portals, creating a requirement profile, and selecting portals. This allowed us to test the usefulness of the final taxonomy with the intended users.

Conclusions: The TOPCOP taxonomy aims to support health information managers in comparing and selecting patient portals. By providing a standardized terminology to describe various aspects of patient portals independent of clinical setting or country, the taxonomy will also be useful for advancing research and evaluation of patient portals.

Keywords: Delphi study; EHR portal; classification system; digital health; electronic health records; evaluation; health information; information management; online EHR access; patient portal; taxonomy; user perspectives.

MeSH terms

  • Consensus
  • Humans
  • Patient Participation
  • Patient Portals*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires