Increasing patient portal adoption

As independent healthcare practices implement electronic health records (EHRs) and other technologies in an effort to meet Stage 2 meaningful use criteria, providers are quickly learning the limitations many of these solutions present. For example, EHRs typically have interoperability drawbacks, meaning they can only push the industry so far to connect critical players.

Patient portal technology is often mistakenly perceived in a similar light. Some providers approach the technology as a mere step to attaining Stage 2 compliance when, in fact, it can be an effective care management and communication tool. To promote adoption, practices must dispel misconceptions around patient portals and embrace the many benefits beyond Stage 2 compliance that the technology provides.

Build buy-in…increase adoption
To reap the benefits of portals, practices must rally providers and administrative staff to encourage adoption and long-term use. In order to achieve this, practices must communicate the potential workflow efficiencies that portals create:

  • Paperless forms processing. Portals offer many ways for practices with limited resources to process forms more efficiently. They enable patients to complete forms electronically prior to a visit, reducing or eliminating administrative time spent photocopying, scanning and processing redundant data, as well as reducing patient wait time. They also make patient information more readily available and up-to-date, meaning physicians are more informed about a patient’s medical history during a visit.
  • Automatic appointment reminders. Although many practices use automated technology to remind patients of upcoming appointments, many smaller practices still call patients manually. Using portals, practices automate appointment reminders, which often reduce no-show rates and result in increased revenue.
  • Improved collections. Rather than writing off unpaid balances or dedicating staff time to calling or mailing letters to patients, portals send reminders to patients with unpaid balances — as well as provide a convenient and secure route for making payments. The result:  increased patient collections and an improved bottom line.
  • Faster test results. One of the biggest benefits portals offer to both providers and patients is the ability to electronically communicate test results. With this accessibility, patients are not left waiting for days for a call or letter sharing important findings. Additionally, portals can help reduce the number of back-and-forth calls between patients and providers to discuss test results and answer questions.

The other key to sustaining adoption? Buy-in from leadership. Without top-down support, it is difficult to obtain the resources necessary to educate providers, staff and patients about all of the possible benefits — as well as train staff in the new ways to work more efficiently.

Push beyond the practice to improve patient adoption
Most practices will agree that getting patients to both initiate and then continue using portal technology are two equally challenging hurdles. Practices that develop a process for educating patients and consistently use it to set up portal accounts will be better prepared for long-term success.

The key to increasing adoption among patients is providing them with an opportunity to learn about and interact with the portal. When patients are in the office, for instance, staff members and providers who interact with them during the visit should introduce the technology. Regardless of practice size, these additional tips can encourage portal adoption:

  • Educate patients while they wait. Share information with patients about the benefits of using portals to manage care. Whether using brochures or kiosks, there are plenty of opportunities for patients to review information before a visit. It only takes a few minutes to read a printed brochure or view an automated demonstration highlighting portal features.
  • Encourage registration. Set up portal accounts for patients while they are checking in or out. Most portals have quick registration capabilities using the patient’s contact information. With an efficient process in place, establishing accounts for patients before they leave the office is not only feasible, but an important step in increasing adoption.
  • Establish ongoing communication. Use the portal and other tools to continuously touch base with patients to better engage them in care throughout the year. Regularly sending emails, mailing postcards or calling patients with automated messages is an easy way to provide information about the portal and encourage patient engagement.
  • Steer practice processes to the portal. Some practices have increased patient adoption by making portal use mandatory to perform certain administrative functions, like scheduling appointments or viewing specific test results. This step allows patients to become more comfortable with accessing the portal, fostering adoption of the technology on a foundational level.

When used consistently, patient portals are valuable tools that help practices achieve Stage 2 meaningful use and engage patients in their care by offering a simple way to communicate with providers. Adoption rates will increase only when patients and providers alike realize all of the benefits portal technology can bring to patient care. How has your practice used a patient portal to improve patient-provider communication?

Gary Hamilton is president and founder of InteliChart, a health information technology company connecting healthcare organizations, providers, patients and their communities through integrated solutions.