In today’s consumer-driven and regulation-heavy environment, there are financial, regulatory, and competitive imperatives for health organizations to promote patient engagement through user-friendly patient portal applications. In fact, the utilization of patient portals is a key exercise for satisfying meaningful use (MU) criteria in 2014.
But patient portals are more than just a requirement for MU attestation – they are an excellent tool for providers to attract, retain, and communicate with patients and their families. According to a recent survey, 84% of patients believe they should have full access to their medical records online, and 41% would consider switching providers if not given that opportunity. Portals allow patients to take a proactive role in managing their healthcare, potentially reducing costs from repeat or unnecessary visits. They also give patients a level of access to their information that they have enjoyed for years in other industries, such as banking and insurance.
For healthcare organizations, the return on investment from patient portals is evident in the reduction of phone calls and related paperwork, not to mention postage savings related to mailing lab results, bills, patient summaries, and other paper-based communication. These benefits are in addition to the harder-to-measure but very tangible returns, such as cost savings in the form of reduced hospital readmission rates.
But the key to successfully operating a patient portal is patient engagement. To meet MU requirements, 50% of unique patients in both the ambulatory and acute settings must be given access to view their health information through a secure application. Furthermore, a portion of these patients have to actually log in and view their information. On the ambulatory side, patients must communicate with their provider through integrated, secure messaging functionality. This means that in addition to having the infrastructure and patient portal application in place, physicians, staff, and administrative personnel are tasked with encouraging their patients to log in and use the tool.
Unfortunately, not many health systems know how to maximize their electronic health record (EHR) and patient portal capabilities, let alone get patients to utilize the portal tools. Today, all of the major EHR vendors are in a position to provide integrated technology along with their applications; however, most, if not all, fail to deliver some of the basic support needed to help organizations encourage high levels of patient engagement. The burden, then, falls on providers and care teams to see the requirements through. As the primary contacts at hospitals and physician practices, these are the players who need to encourage patients to take ownership in the management of their healthcare online.
Organizational leadership must have a plan in place to educate providers and staff on how to promote and facilitate online patient/provider interactions and optimize the tools and technology that are available.
What are you doing to encourage portal adoption and patient engagement at your hospitals and physician practices? If your answer is “not enough,” it’s time for us to have a conversation.