- As healthcare providers grapple with federal, patient-centered policy requirements and a call to improve patient engagement, the emphasis on patient portal adoption has grown.
However, making a patient portal available is only half the battle. In order for providers to successfully drive patient engagement and meet federal benchmarks, they need to get their patients to sign up for the portal, as well.
This may be easier said than done. While data from the American Hospital Association shows that 92 percent of patients are able to access their health data via a patient portal, providers still have to focus on getting the patient to utilize the technology.
However, some healthcare professionals have seen success in boosting patient portal adoption. Below, PatientEngagementHIT.com lists their advice:
Market the tool, then highlight the benefits
In order for patients to sign up for a new technology, they have to know it exists, so it is important for healthcare organizations to advertise their patient portal all around the practice.
At Massachusetts-based Grove Medical Associates, practice leaders identified the potential benefits of the portal, and wanted to make sure their patients knew about them.
“When we first took on the portal, we advertised it. We had a big sign in our old office saying please get a username and password and log on,” said David Weinstock, MD, a primary care physician with the practice. “Our front desk would ask people when they would register. We started collecting emails and getting them into the system.”
These efforts permeated the practice, Weinstock explained. After patients saw the patient portal signs in the waiting room and discussed the tool with front desk workers, providers emphasized portal registration.
“Our efforts are a combination of the front desk asking if patients would like information that way, and then it’s the medical assistants who might be in the room with the patient, and then it’s the physician who would really need to drive it as well,” he explained. “For some reason, when we mention it, it might have a little more weight.”
By reminding patients about the patient portal at multiple points throughout their visit, the practice managed to inspire stronger adoption. And when physicians themselves speak highly of the technology, patients may be more likely to value patient portals and eventually register.
Grove Medical has also managed to keep patients signing in again and again, Weinstock said. Once patients first overcame the hurdle of registering for the portal, the benefits spoke for themselves.
“It was very easy once patients realized what they can see on the portal, what they can do on the portal, and the ease with which they can do it,” he said. “It’s very easy.”
Make it a mainstay in patient-provider communication
One of the potential functions of the patient portal is secure direct messaging between patient and provider. By enabling patients and providers to discuss health between office visits, patient portals help providers fine tune treatment options or determine if a certain ailment requires a full office visit.
This level of communication is critical for Susan Wolver, MD, internist and professor at VCU Medical Center.
“To think that we can affect any kind of change in moving a patient towards health with seeing them either one time a year for healthier patients, and even four or five times a year for patients who have chronic disease, really doesn’t make sense,” Wolver said in a previous interview. “So the portal gives us the ability to have all of those touch points in between.”
Wolver emphasizes these benefits to her patients when working to improve adoption, stating that patient portal registration is imperative for her to deliver quality care.
Patients have responded to this tactic positively. Wolver finds that her patients come better prepared to doctor’s appointments. Practice-wide, 80 percent of patients say the patient portal helps them take better care of themselves, the doctor said, citing a recent VCU Medical Center survey.
Physicians looking to leverage secure messaging as a patient-provider communication tool should consider emphasizing the patient portal as their primary method of communication. By telling patients that the portal will be the first place they can get ahold of their providers, they may spark higher rates of adoption.
Show them how to use it at the point of care
Some healthcare professionals feel they can be more convincing in advocating for the patient portal when they discuss it with patients in person. According to Zach Wood, director and general manager of Member Engagement at Cerner, explaining the portal to the patient when they’re in the office helps clearly communicate the value of the patient portal.
“When you’re in person with the patient, whether you’re a nurse or a doctor, having that conversation about next steps in managing a patient’s own health and communicating and scheduling next appointments has been very effective,” Wood explained.
“When you have the person there, in the situation that you can share with them the value of it, that’s how you start to drive usage and engagement.”
According to Tracy Lawrence, MD, it is equally important to show patients exactly how the technology works. The emergency clinician at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital says that patient education is a key part of their discharge process.
“We first have our personnel start the process of encouraging patient portal use by getting email addresses from our patients,” Lawrence said in an interview with EHRIntelligence.com. “Upon discharge or at the bedside, our clinicians show patients how to go into the portal. This is one avenue we use to engage patients.”
When providers offer these patient portal tutorials as a part of discharge, they have the opportunity to show them all of the important features the technology has.
“The most important thing, within the hospital setting, is patient education. Showing patients that portals have data to access and getting them excited about data is important,” Lawrence said. “Often, patients don’t understand how to get onto the portal. It’s helpful to put it right in front of them and walk them through it.”
Ultimately, ensuring patients know how to use the patient portal will be as important as ensuring they enroll. Not only can this contribute to successful attestation to federal programs, but it may improve care outcomes by increasing patient engagement.