CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 · Methods Inf Med 2021; 60(S 01): e44-e55
DOI: 10.1055/s-0041-1730284
Original Article

Development and Validation of a Useful Taxonomy of Patient Portals Based on Characteristics of Patient Engagement

Michael Glöggler
1   Institute of Medical Informatics, UMIT—Private University for Health Sciences, Medical Informatics and Technology, Hall in Tirol, Austria
Elske Ammenwerth
1   Institute of Medical Informatics, UMIT—Private University for Health Sciences, Medical Informatics and Technology, Hall in Tirol, Austria
› Author Affiliations
Funding This research was funded in whole, or in part, by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF; no.: I 3726-N31).


Objective Taxonomies are classification systems used to reduce complexity and better understand a domain. The present research aims to develop a useful taxonomy for health information managers to classify and compare patient portals based on characteristics appropriate to promote patient engagement. As a result, the taxonomy should contribute to understanding the differences and similarities of the portals. Further, the taxonomy shall support health information managers to more easily define which general type and functionalities of patient portals they need and to select the most suitable solution offered on the market.

Methods We followed the formal taxonomy-building method proposed by Nickerson et al. Based on a literature review, we created a preliminary taxonomy following the conceptional approach of the model. We then evaluated each taxa's appropriateness by analyzing and classifying 17 patient portals offered by software vendors and 11 patient portals offered by health care providers. After each iteration, we examined the achievement of the determined objective and subjective ending conditions.

Results After two conceptional approaches to create our taxonomy, and two empirical approaches to evaluate it, the final taxonomy consists of 20 dimensions and 49 characteristics. To make the taxonomy easy to comprehend, we assigned to the dimensions seven aspects related to patient engagement. These aspects are (1) portal design, (2) management, (3) communication, (4) instruction, (5) self-management, (6) self-determination, and (7) data management. The taxonomy is considered finished and useful after all ending conditions that defined beforehand have been fulfilled. We demonstrated that the taxonomy serves to understand the differences and similarities by comparing patient portals. We call our taxonomy “Taxonomy of Patient Portals based on Characteristics of Patient Engagement (TOPCOP).”

Conclusion We developed the first useful taxonomy for health information managers to classify and compare patient portals. The taxonomy is based on characteristics promoting patient engagement. With 20 dimensions and 49 characteristics, our taxonomy is particularly suitable to discriminate among patient portals and can easily be applied to compare portals. The TOPCOP taxonomy enables health information managers to better understand the differences and similarities of patient portals. Further, the taxonomy may help them to define the type and general functionalities needed. But it also supports them in searching and comparing patient portals offered on the market to select the most suitable solution.

Supplementary Material

Publication History

Received: 22 December 2020

Accepted: 31 March 2021

Article published online:
09 July 2021

© 2021. The Author(s). This is an open access article published by Thieme under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonDerivative-NonCommercial License, permitting copying and reproduction so long as the original work is given appropriate credit. Contents may not be used for commercial purposes, or adapted, remixed, transformed or built upon. (

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