Effectively Engaging Patients Through the Portal

Guest post by Marie Murphy, managing director of health solutions, CTG.

Marie Murphy
Marie Murphy

Since the inception of meaningful use in 2011, healthcare organizations have been implementing technology designed to help protect and improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of patient data. Three years after the launch of meaningful use, organizations that claimed to reach Stage 2 were given patient portal requirements to help achieve the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Triple Aim Initiative: To improve the patient experience of care, improve population health, and reduce the per capita cost of healthcare.

The premise behind the Triple Aim was that if patients had better access to information about their health, along with the ability to schedule appointments and better communicate with their providers, their satisfaction and outcomes, and thus costs, would improve. While 90 percent of hospitals offer portals as a result of the requirements, actual usage by patients is stagnant, reaching a meager 15 percent. Understandably, healthcare providers are frustrated by this, and as a result of their frustration have become intent on showing the symbiotic benefits of these patient portals.

Ironically, higher performing organizations, like Kaiser Permanente, have reported much higher rates of patient portal use—upwards of 45 percent adoption by patients in some cases. This supports the case for the patient portal by demonstrating its direct correlation to satisfying Triple Aim initiatives, yet healthcare organizations still struggle to engage their patients. For many organizations, limited functionality and the use of multiple portals with multiple log-in requirements from the same hospital system are a big barrier to patient adoption. To encourage portal usage, healthcare organizations need to address the root of the problem – selecting the wrong patient portal for your organization.

Here are five keys to selecting a patient portal solution that will encourage adoption and help healthcare organizations achieve the Triple Aim:

Select the right vendor. When researching the right portal for your organization, be mindful that sometimes a large part of the battle can simply be choosing the right vendor. Although most portal technologies have the same basic functions, some vendors offer additional features like mobile apps, appointment scheduling, secure submission of medical questions, and other features that make access more beneficial and appealing to patients.

True functionality is more valuable than meeting minimum requirements. Select a portal built for “true” functionality, not simply to achieve the minimum meaningful use requirements. “Check-the-box” implementations, such as patients being directed to a scheduling request form or shown a listing of numbers to call after they logged in, has a significant impact on adoption. Removing portions of the patient portal that are automated puts more heavy lifting on the patient and is less attractive. True functionality will directly lead to a desire to return to the portal.

Pick a solution that makes a good first impression. Today’s patient is tech literate and wants to work with an easy user interface. Because of this and other factors, the first one to two logins will likely determine whether or not a patient thinks it’s worth their time. To maximize engagement, you must provide key, user-facing functionality from day one. Additionally, a defined communication plan that provides ongoing education when significant portal changes are made is important for the patient. When well-designed and implemented, PHRs (personal health records), PHPs (personal health platforms), patient portals, and other digital tools deliver significant value and help healthcare providers reach high adoption rates.

Assign “champions” to share system knowledge. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth. Adoption begins at the top, with a focus and commitment on embracing the technology as a driver to increase quality and improve outcomes. Having a portal leader and advocates can be a key driver for adoption success—these physician or provider champions understand the technology and can share their knowledge and passion with others.

Ensure your system has robust functionality. There are three main components that patients look for in a portal: secure messaging for contacting their providers, the ability to seamlessly schedule online, and the power to view meaningful data that enables them to take ownership of their care. Of course, data should be entered in a timely manner, metrics should be in place for data submission, and expectations should be set for compliance. Bonus features such as online review, bill scheduling, and family access can help keep patients coming back.

In early 2018, healthcare organizations will undoubtedly face additional strategic imperatives. For example, experts are beginning to discuss the importance of the “Quadruple Aim.” With ever-increasing standards and minimum requirements, encouraging patients to take ownership of their care will keep your organization one step ahead and on track for success. And, for your business as a whole, the move to value-based care makes the move to patient portals even more of an imperative.

4 comments on “Effectively Engaging Patients Through the Portal”

These are great tips to keep in mind as we’re growing our chiropractic practice. I think our patients will greatly benefit from a portal, and this is a helpful guideline on what to look out for. Thanks for the advice!

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