Providers who are participating in The Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Program are required to meet the Patient Electronic Access objective to give patients access to their health information in a timely way. The most common method is through online patient portals, secure websites that are commonly integrated with electronic health record (EHR) systems. According to data reported in a 2015 Tech Survey conducted by Kareo, 54 percent of respondents said their practice has a patient portal, up from 20 percent in 2011. Sixty-three percent of those respondents acknowledged that getting patients to sign up and use the portal was their biggest patient portal-related challenge.
From the patient perspective, according to an IndustryView 2014 study, only one-third of patients say they currently have access to a patient portal. Two-thirds either do not have access or are unsure if they have access. This data suggests that either providers have been slow to offer patient portals or are not successfully creating awareness among their patients.
The technology itself may contribute to low usage rates among patients. Thirty-three percent of the patients polled in the IndustryView study said a confusing portal interface contributes to frustration with patient portals. Other frustrations faced by patients include forgetting their passwords, lack of clear organization of information, having to input their own health information and unresponsive staff.
Although most medical practices have implemented patient portals only in order to meet Meaningful Use requirements, the value of offering patients online access to their health information and other services should go far beyond just meeting governmental requirements. Medical practices who have fully embraced and successfully enrolled patients in online portals are experiencing very practical benefits including a decrease in call volume which contributes to improved workflow efficiencies, an increase in staff and patient satisfaction and a boost in earnings from pay-for-performance and other programs.
In order for a medical practice to get the most out of their investment in patient portals, they need to do more than create awareness and increase patient enrollment, it requires increasing the patient’s usage of online portals. So, how can a medical practice help increase consistent usage of portals among patients? Some tips are to ensure the portal is easy to use, ensure the portal link is available on the practice’s website, communicate how this tool will make patients’ lives easier and require the patient to use the portal for some services.
The most important tip is to establish ongoing communication to encourage patients to use the portal. This can be done in a number of ways and one of the most cost-effective methods is to use existing automated communication technology to share the value of using the patient portal. Automated voice, text and email messages can be very effective in encouraging the use of portals. Some suggestions:
- Provide a link to the portal in appointment confirmations so patients can complete forms, update their insurance or contact information and make pre-payments, for example.
- Send automated recall notifications with links to the portal to either schedule or request an appointment.
- Send automated messages to notify patients of lab results that can be viewed via the portal.
- Send automated messages to update patients on any new features that are available on the portal.
Medical practices actively promoting patient portals have experienced far more benefits than simply meeting governmental requirements. By communicating the availability of the online portal to patients in an ongoing way, medical practices can ensure more consistent usage of the portal, thereby getting the most out of their investment of time, resources and technology. Hopefully, the patient portal technology itself will continue to evolve and improve so that the patient experience is a more positive one.