- Between requirements in meaningful use and its ties to value-based payment models, the concept of patient engagement plays an integral role in the healthcare industry. However, in the flurry of box-checking and requirement-meeting, the true meaning of patient engagement can sometimes get lost.
According to the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS), patient engagement is characterized by a physician and a patient working together to improve the patient’s health. Patient engagement can take many forms, such as a physician involving a patient in a treatment decision or a patient contributing some of their personally-collected health data.
One of the most basic tools physicians use to improve and measure patient engagement is the patient portal. By storing patient information and creating a platform upon which patients can post health inquiries or update personal information, patient portals by nature increase patient involvement.
However, as stated above, meaningful use and other federal requirements can often get in the way of meaningful patient engagement over the patient portal. How can providers change this? How do physicians use patient portals to improve patient engagement?
Going beyond the bare basics
Although it is important to tell a patient about the patient portal and encourage them to log into it, that isn’t always enough. In order to best engage with a patient over a patient portal, a physician needs to show the patient how to use it meaningfully, and underscore the portal’s immediate benefits.
According to Marcia Cheadle, RN, who presented in an EHRIntelligence.com webcast this past August, physicians should use the patient portal to help make the patient a partner in care.
For example, Cheadle, who serves as the Senior Director of Clinical Applications at Inland Northwest Health Services (INHS), says that the way physicians use their patient portals to adhere to meaningful use requirements keeps them from personally engaging with the patient. This limits the effectiveness of the portal overall.
To use a patient portal more meaningfully and to increase patient engagement, Cheadle discussed using the generic parameters of the technology to meet individual patient needs. Additionally, physicians should use the technology to establish patient partnerships.
“By having more patient involvement, that activation of the patients in their care journey, their longitudinal healthcare journey, we’re really looking to leave behind that unilateral decision-making, that white coat paralysis that happens to all of us when we go in to see the doctor,” Cheadle said.
Furthermore, Cheadle said, physicians need to fully educate their patients on the uses and benefits of patient portals. This can be as easy as walking the patient through the patient portal prior to discharge. By instructing patients in how to navigate the technology, while simultaneously showing them how this can help them with their health, the portal becomes increasingly valuable.
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT also offers such advice, emphasizing the point that patients are more likely to use a patient portal if their physicians suggest doing so.
“To simplify the portal registration process, have staff assist patients with the process, and consider providing a registration kiosk in the office,” ONC wrote. “Staff can educate patients about how to use the portal’s features, and can offer guidance about the kinds of communication that are appropriate between providers and patients.”
Establish sustained patient portal use
Several industry experts have suggested that the key to improving patient engagement via the patient portal is through sustained, long-term use of the technology. In research published in June of 2015, researchers out of the University of Pittsburgh suggested that sustained patient portal use was integral to patient engagement, and took a look at different approaches to ensure that sustained use.
“While an electronic personal health record (ePHR) tethered to an electronic health record (EHR), also known as a patient portal, is currently recognized as a promising mechanism to support greater patient engagement, questions remain about how health care leaders, policy makers, and designers can encourage adoption by both providers and patients and what factors might contribute to sustained utilization,” the research team wrote.
Although the researchers found that there is little literature or definition on how to ensure sustained use of a patient portal, they did determine that meaningful use requirements weren’t necessarily effective.
“While MU criteria clearly outline requirements of basic functionality and targeted adoption rates, they do not delineate the steps or features required to engage patients in a sustained and relevant way,” the researchers explained.
What the researchers did find was that certain healthcare delivery factors influenced the sustained use of patient portals. The factors included provider endorsement and portal usability.
As the healthcare industry continues to become more patient-centric, it will be critical for providers to determine the best ways to improve patient engagement. Although patient portals are just one way to improve patient engagement, this technology has the potential to prove itself integral in transforming patient-provider relationships beyond federal regulations.