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Can Strong Patient Outreach Drive Patient Portal Enrollment?

Research presented at the 2016 AHIMA Conference shows that robust patient outreach can improve patient portal enrollment, satisfaction, and communication.

By Sara Heath

- Specialized patient outreach coordinators may be helpful in boosting pediatric patient portal enrollment, patient satisfaction, and communication, according to research presented at the 2016 AHIMA Conference.

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The study is based off of a 2012 program at Children’s Health System of Texas. In partnership with the ONC, Children’s appointed a patient outreach coordinator to cater to the unique patient engagement needs of pediatric patients and their families.

“As a children’s hospital, we cannot automatically register patients as we do with adults. We have to identify and register the patient’s parent or caretaker,” said Michelle Basco, RHIA, of AHIMA’s Organizational Learning and Development.

“We go out to the clinical areas of Children’s and get to know our patients and their caretakers, as well as their providers,” Basco, who is also the study’s presenter, continued. “We give them a hands-on demonstration of how to use the portal for everything from messaging their providers, to changing appointments, to accessing test results.”

Program leaders also worked with providers to communicate the importance of the patient portal to their patients and caregivers during office visits. Outreach continued through word of mouth as satisfied patients gave personal testimony to those who had not already enrolled for the patient portal.

The health system supplements personal outreach efforts with traditional media. Children’s clinics and doctor’s offices provide handouts reviewing the many benefits of the patient portal, encouraging patients and their caregivers to register. These handouts highlight the different tasks users can complete via the patient portal, including secure direct messaging and medication reminders.

At the time of the presentation, over 32,000 patients and caregivers had registered for the patient portal. The program has a 9.3 percent activation rate with over 9,000 hits daily.

The benefits have been palpable, Basco reported in her presentation. Within the first three months of the program, patient satisfaction with their ability to access their health data rose from 43 percent to 100 percent. Patient satisfaction with involvement in managing their own care improved from 54 percent to 93 percent.

The patient outreach and portal program also improved medication adherence, with the number of patients reporting that they take their medications on time rising from 64 percent to 100 percent.

The program has grown since implementation, Basco reported. In 2015, Children’s Health System of Texas acquired the 39-bed facility, Our Children’s House. In that facility alone, registration with the patient portal grew to 70 percent by the first quarter of 2016.

Children’s also has plans to enhance the patient portal, which contains elements of a personal health record, to improve clinical quality.

“We’ve now integrated our PHR into a system-wide electronic health record and are collaborating with many of our clinical and administrative departments to promote use of the patient portal,” said Katherine Lusk, MHSM, RHIA, FAHIMA, chief HIM and exchange officer at Children’s.

The program results indicate that patient caregivers enjoy the added convenience that patient portals offer, specifically with regard to data access. In 2015, 65 percent of all health data requests were conducted via the patient portal.

According to AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon, MBA, RHIA, CAE, FACHE, FAHIMA, these results have considerable implications for the role of the health information manager and patient outreach specialist going forward.

With meaningful use and Quality Payment Program requirements driving providers to provide health data access to their patients, it will be important that they successfully promote patient portal registration.

“Patient portals are a valuable resource that promote patients’ engagement in their healthcare. The information stored in the record remains accessible to patients if they change providers, thus enhancing care coordination and management,” Thomas Gordon said in a public statement.

“As the experts in electronic health records, HIM professionals can and should play a central role in advocating for patient access to their health information and educating them on the use of the patient portal.”

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