- Between regulatory requirements and calls for stronger patient-centered care, patient portal adoption has become an integral part of a healthcare organization’s health technology suite.
Patient portals are an important regulatory requirement, with both meaningful use and MACRA’s Quality Payment Program calling for the tools in their final rules going into 2017. Beyond the regulatory requirements, industry experts have long lauded patient portals as the key to digital patient engagement.
Patient portals have since become a mainstay in the healthcare industry. ONC data shows that as of 2015 about 70 percent of hospitals offered patients the capability to electronically view, download, and transmit via a patient portal. A 2016 AHA Trend Report showed that patient data access and portal adoption had surged to 92 percent.
Despite patient portal popularity, some organizations may be behind the curve in adopting their own tools, or may be looking to replace a patient portal for one that better suits clinic needs.
Healthcare organizations beginning the patient portal adoption process or looking into patient portal replacement options should consider the following steps for success:
Outline clinic or hospital needs, goals
Before making the investment in a new patient portal, healthcare organizations must determine what they want out of the technology. Some practices will need functions that others do not.
In specialty care, the patient portal may be less about chronic care management and more about a lean business model that creates patient and family member retention.
“Specialty groups are growing a business and they’re looking for that engagement, as well,” athenaHealth CMO Todd Rothenhaus said in a previous interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com. “Specialty groups want to know if there’s a spouse or a family member who might seek care, and they want to be gaining their market share.”
Conversely, a primary care physician might try to forge a deep relationship with their patients, requiring strong messaging and connectivity capabilities.
Cerner Director and General Manager of Member Engagement Zach Wood pointed out in a past interview that this approach can help create better communication lines, leading to higher patient satisfaction.
“You build that relationship and you continue that relationship in your on-going care,” Wood maintained.
Strong secure messaging support and seamless patient data access lets patients and providers take advantage of relationship-building functions.
“You need a starting point with that relationship, but once you’ve started using it in some of the ways we’ve talked about, you definitely have more engaged populations,” Wood noted.
Unique organization-wide needs and priorities will naturally vary from practice to practice. Hospitals and clinics should consider their current EHR vendor, interoperability, budget, and patient priorities to develop portal adoption goals.
Healthcare organizations should also consult patient advisory councils or conduct practice-wide surveys to determine some of the patient-facing portal features.
Select a patient portal vendor
Patient portal vendor selection will depend on the goals and priorities determined in step one. Healthcare organizations will need to consult their list of necessary patient portal functions, and then consider which vendors will deliver the most meaningful patient experience.
Many hospitals and health systems already have an inclusive suite of health technology that can include their EHR, patient portals, revenue cycle technologies, and population health tools. Organizations should look at the customizable aspects of the patient portal offerings to determine what works best for each individual hospital or clinic.
PatientEngagement.com has previously broken down the top patient portal vendors by implementation.
Create provider buy-in
Healthcare organizations must consult with clinicians throughout the entire patient portal adoption or replacement process. While adopting the patient portal is a positive step toward digital patient engagement, the tool will be more meaningful with clinician input and support.
The best strategies for creating provider input is to ask providers what they want or need for patients, and also how features may impact clinical workflows.
Research indicates that clinicians are primarily concerned with negative impacts the patient portal may have on the clinical workflow or patient-provider relationship. Experts suggest organization leaders offer clinicians data proving the effectiveness of patient portals. Additionally, leaders should recruit clinicians with positive portal experiences to share their stories.
When implementing patient data access strategies, UCHealth Chief Medical Information Officer CT Lin, MD, FACP, leveraged data and clinician testimony to create buy-in throughout his health system.
“I met in private with a number of physician leaders, whom I anticipated would object to this,” Lin said in a previous interview. “I did my best to hear them out, address concerns, promise additional support for their clinical area if needed, and promise that we could revisit this decision if indeed patient response was overwhelming or negative.”
Creating clinician buy-in is not only important for adopting the right technology, but is key for spurring patient adoption. Research indicates that providers who offer positive personal testimony about the patient portal see higher adoption rates.
Market the patient portal to end-users
Whether an organization is adopting its first patient portal or replacing an old one, leaders must market the tool to patients. While strategies may vary depending upon the practice’s unique patient population, there are a few standard methods for integrating the patient portal into the patient experience.
Many clinics, especially primary care clinics, are successful in using strategic signage throughout the facility.
David Weinstock, MD, a primary care physician with Massachusetts-based Grove Medical Associates discussed his organization’s process in a previous PatientEngagementHIT.com interview.
“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,” Weinstock said. “Our front desk would ask people when they would register. We started collecting emails and getting them into the system.”
It is also beneficial to involve administrative staff who usually see patients at the start and end of their care encounter. Staff members can explain the portal, encourage patients to sign up, and even walk patients through the process.
Involving the administrative staff and clinicians was effective at touching patients across the care encounter, Weinstock said.
“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 clinicians mention it, it might have a little more weight.”
Marketing is crucial even during a patient portal replacement. Although patients are familiar with the tool and already have accounts, it will be necessary for clinic and hospital staff to inform patients of the new technology and any enrollment steps patients must take. Staff should inform patients about the reasons for the replacement, what the new benefits will be, and the portal’s security level.
Ultimately, the patient portal’s success will rely on how the patients use it with their providers. Meaningful patient portal use depends on strong secure messaging habits and data access.
Practices may see patient engagement improvements by selecting the right patient portal for the organization’s needs and involving patients and clinicians in the process.