If we’ve learned anything about patients recently, it’s that an overwhelming majority want access to their medical records. In a survey conducted last year by Accenture, more than 90 percent of patients polled said that they wanted Internet access to their records, and also wanted the ability to use a patient portal or personal health record (PHR) technology to do things like book doctor appointments and refill prescriptions online.
On the surface, this is great news for practices, as they stand to benefit from PHRs just as much as the patients who will ultimately use them -- if not more so. By empowering patients to embrace self-service and become more proactive in managing their care, PHRs can help practices dramatically cut time spent on administrative tasks, improve schedule management, avoid no-shows, collect balances more proficiently and make reimbursable patient encounters more time-efficient.
Not to mention that by offering tools that make patients’ lives more convenient, practices of all sizes can boost their competitiveness and marketability at a time when consumers not only want, but increasingly expect, on-demand information and services from their providers. And, if that isn’t enough, meaningful use Stage 2 includes a requirement for physicians to provide patients with the ability to access and transmit their health information -- and prove that at least five percent of patients are actually using this capability.
Patients and providers clearly have a lot to gain from PHRs. So, why aren’t people using them?
What patients say they want, and how they behave don’t always align. Google’s recently shuttered PHR portal GoogleHealth learned this lesson, as have many PHRs in its wake. Although patients want online access to their records and the features that come with PHRs, getting patients to actually adopt the technology and use it in a meaningful way takes upfront planning. The good news is that it is possible. We’ve helped practices, of all sizes, successfully roll out PHRs across their patient communities. Based on these experiences, below are three tips for your practice to consider when implementing a PHR to increase its “stickiness” with patients.
- Demonstrate value at the outset and look for quick wins. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t expect your interactions with patients to change overnight. We’ve learned that the most successful PHR case studies come from practices that start by focusing on getting patients to adopt one or two features of their PHRs that easily demonstrate a personal benefit to patients: saving time, greater convenience, avoiding a phone call or visit, etc. At the outset, we’ve found that two of the best PHR selling points for patients are online bill payment and appointment scheduling. This can help your practice establish a baseline of PHR users, with whom you can work later to adopt more advanced features.
- Integration is essential. If you want to reinforce patient engagement with your PHR, it’s important to ensure that it is fully integrated within your practice and present at all of the touch points your patient has with your office. For example, if a patient calls to schedule an appointment, does your office issue an email confirmation to the patient with a link to begin building his or her personal health record? Is your PHR mentioned on patient statements? Being integrated creates more opportunities for your practice to encourage patients to interact with your PHR. Likewise, being integrated with the devices that patients use is important. According to a recent study, by 2016, a majority of the U.S. population will own a smartphone. Having your PHR available via new channels (such as mobile) increases the opportunity for patients to have more interactions with your PHR.
- Marketing is important. Simply offering a PHR to patients won’t guarantee they’ll use it. From developing marketing collateral and signage (your PHR vendor may have materials available) to training your staff members to be knowledgeable and able to explain the benefits of your PHR to patients, marketing your PHR to patients can go a long way. In certain cases, we’ve worked with providers who offer promotions such as coffee shop gift cards and coupons to encourage patients to begin using their PHR. The long term payoff for practices can greatly outweigh the upfront cost and planning.
PHRs hold great promise for helping patients attain better health outcomes by playing a greater role in their own care, while making practices more efficient and profitable in the process. However, realizing the full potential of PHRs takes upfront planning. By implementing your PHR with a methodical phased-in approach, fully integrating it within your practice and marketing its value to patients, you will be well on your way to implementing your PHR successfully.
Stephen Snyder is president at MTBC, a provider of integrated practice management, revenue cycle management and proprietary electronic health record software solutions to private physician offices and hospital-employed provider groups throughout the United States.
Photo attributed to Aka via Creative Commons license.