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What Keeps Patients from Adopting Patient Portals, Health IT?

According to a new survey, 41 percent of users get frustrated when navigating patient portals, limiting patient portal adoption rates.

By Sara Heath

Despite the fact that patient portals often receive industry praise, the technology also suffers from a number of user frustrations and critiques, according to a survey by EHR review firm Software Advice.  The poll shows that patients have many qualms with patient portals, including interface usability and patient-provider communication.

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Forty-one percent of patients think patient portal interfaces are too confusing, while 37 percent of patients are frustrated by a lack of staff response via the technology.

According to the survey, these primary complaints show a need for more mindful patient portal selection. Hospital leaders could benefit from conducting more research into patient portal interfaces before adopting the technology into their workflows.

Understanding the differences in patient portal interfaces and using pilot groups to determine which seem most navigable may help healthcare organizations avoid patient complaints about portal usability.

Furthermore, hospital leaders need to adopt strong patient portal response and communication policies. For example, leaders could implement a messaging policy requiring all providers to check their inboxes daily to avoid unanswered patient queries.

Hospitals may also consider appointing an expert patient portal user to help guide staff when they themselves struggle navigating patient portal messages.

The surveyed patients also expressed frustrations with how they interacted with patient portals. Twenty-seven percent of patients said their portal sent them too many automated emails, for example.

Twenty-six percent of patients also complained that the portal was not fast enough in sending them notifications.

For 21 percent of patients, these tools included too much medical jargon, which kept patients from fully understand the data displayed on the patient portal.

Eighteen percent of patients were frustrated with their inability to upload their own medical images to the software.

Considering these portal issues, it may be difficult for healthcare organizations to facilitate patient portal adoption. Patients may not want to adopt a new technology into their lifestyles, or see a point in utilizing a tool that frustrates them.

However, the researchers explained that these technologies still serve a role in improving healthcare quality and provider and patient experience.

By expanding communication avenues, patient portals could help improve the patient-provider relationship. These tools may also help improve clinical workflows by allowing patients to accomplish logistical tasks such as bill pay or appointment scheduling. This often helps alleviate burden on office staff.

Most importantly, the researchers said, is that portals may produce improvements in care quality.   Electronic prescription refills help support medication adherence, and access to personal data helps patients learn more about their health.

The key to reaping these benefits, the researchers explained, was encouraging patients to enroll in the patient portal. Healthcare leaders can first do this by ensuring their patient portal includes the features patients want the most.

Individual hospitals may determine this through patient questionnaires, but the researchers also reported the patient portal features ranked highest by patients across the nation.

The survey found that online appointment scheduling and access to health data were the most popular patient portal features, followed by bill pay, prescription follow-up, filling out of pre-visit forms, and medical history updates.

By considering what users might want to see in the patient portal, providers can tailor the tool to make it more attractive for patients to adopt.

The researchers also noted the importance of enrolling patients in and educating them about the portal while they are still in the office as a means to better transition to the new technology. Hospital leaders may also consider collecting periodic patient feedback in order to keep updating the portal to suit user needs.

Between meaningful use and MACRA requirements, it is likely that patient portals will remain an important tool for the healthcare industry.

As a result, providers will need to understand what stops patients from adopting patient portals and how they can better encourage them to use the tool.

Image Credit: Software Advance

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