EHR v Covid-19. Pandemic Drives Patient Portal Signup (and helicopters and dinosaurs)?

More CMIO armchair theorizing

Amidst the furor of the health industry struggling to battle a microscopic foe, there are some interesting tidbits. And a data update, thanks to a question by @TheLizArmy on Twitter.

Here’s the TL;DR: Pandemic concerns, relaxation of Federal rules and Stay-at-home orders have resulted in explosive growth in our patient-portal sign ups at UCHealth. We went from 66% to 72% of patients seen between February and April 2020 with an active Patient Portal account. Look at the sharp up-tick. We are now at 700,000 online patients from 650,000 last month! AND, as of yesterday, our Video Visit count exceeded 4000 PER DAY.

All because of a tiny micro-capsid of proteins and a short strand of RNA.

Evil RNA-based life form? Can’t we just get along?


In 1984, I spent a summer studying under Richard Goldstein PhD at the Harvard Medical School Genetics and Microbiology Department, and writing my thesis on the genetic makeup of the P4 bacteriophage, cutting and splicing DNA to figure out how the darn thing worked.

I stayed for the summer with a friend in an apartment on Massachusetts Avenue, and would ride my bike through Cambridge, over the Charles River and into Boston and the Lab. It was a good summer; I even decorated my bike helmet and called it my Bike Capsid:

Actual photo I printed and glued on my bike helmet in 1984

I celebrate my nerdiness.

A capsid is what the virus packages it’s DNA into to travel between bacteria. The tiny feet are what stick-it to a bacterial cell wall, and the tube is what the DNA is injected through, into the innards of the cell, like pirates commandeering a hapless merchant ship.

It so happened, that one late morning, the traffic was backed up for a half mile at the bridge over the Charles; a traffic cop guarded the crossing. I rode up on my commuter bike: “Hey Officer, what’s going on? Why is the bridge closed?”

He looked at me with disgust? boredom? and replied:
“Dinah-soah comin’ up the ri-vah” and walked away.

Dinah … WHAT?!

I turned to a nearby passenger on a public transit bus with an open window: “Did he just say: “Dinosaur coming up the river?” The guy just shrugged.

And sure enough, about 15 minutes later, the sounds of a helicopter, with a museum-quality dinosaur underneath, coming up the river to its new home at the Museum of Science. My summer was never the same after that.

Seriously? (from Arthur Pollack,


Which is all to say: me and viruses, we go way back. And Dino’s are sometimes the hero of the story.

And while I’m meandering, it is fascinating that humans, in their slow, inevitable, dino-like lurch toward progress, sometimes put up such barriers (Federal Medicare prohibition of paying for telehealth, HIPAA Privacy concerns stopping the use of commercial 2-way video, cross-state prohibition on the practice of medicine) that we get in our own way. And then it takes a tiny little single RNA strand and a couple of proteins, to change the globe, and our lives.

The uptick on the curve above proves that humans crave connection. The uptick looks kinda like … the neck of a dinosaur? Anyway, here’s proof that dinosaurs are still ready to battle viruses on behalf of humans, growling in the Command Center at UCHealth.

CMIO’s take? What is your interesting back-story? Lately, we only have one channel in our brains: survive and defeat Covid-19. But we are so much more interesting to each other than that.

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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