How to Actually Get Patients to Engage with a Portal
By Zach Watson
From increased interoperability requirements to percentage benchmarks for online patient usage of digital assets, Meaningful Use Stage 2 has several requirements that are making eligible professionals sweat. Let’s address the latter of the two.
From a high-level view, getting more than five percent of patients to download, transmit, or view health information online should be low-hanging fruit. But as the Mayo Clinic famously found out, simply creating this type of functionality doesn’t guarantee engagement. Of a reported 240,000 patients who signed up for portal accounts, less than 12,000 had actually logged in 2013. In contrast, Nashville’s own Vanderbilt experienced significant success with getting patients to interact with their portal. During 2012, they reported 193,969 unique logins.
And for truly outrageous engagement numbers, one need look no further than Kaiser Permanente. A reported 4.4 million of Kaiser’s 9.1 million members use the online portal.
Meeting Stage 2 engagement requirements is doable. The disconnect arises from providers simply implementing technology without truly integrating it. Online portal access should be introduced in the context of the patient-physician relationship, not as an extra feature that patients can access should the compulsion strike.
Here are three actionable methods for crossing the five percent chasm:
- Get a mobile app. It’s well known that electronic health record functionality varies by product, so it’s natural that patient portal capabilities will too. Part of granting patients greater access to their medical records lies in the intuitiveness with which they can retrieve said information. If they are asked to type in a username and password from the web browser on their phone, it’s unlikely they’ll go through the trouble. Mobile applications are becoming standard across all business verticals because they are formatted for ease of use. If a patient portal doesn’t come with a mobile app for patients to download, the physician implementing it should demand one. Kaiser launched their mobile app in 2012. Patients downloaded it over 450,000 times last year.
- Do a walk-through. Patient satisfaction is inherently tied to interaction with the physician or other clinician. To create an environment in which patients will be receptive to new information, have a knowledgeable staff member walk patients through how to login and use the portal. Explain the benefits of scheduling appointments and refilling prescriptions online. Perhaps even have the patients navigate the portal for 60 seconds or so to make sure they’re comfortable finding all the information. Will this affect clinic time? Yes. Will it help meet Stage 2 criteria? Absolutely.
- Create some marketing. It doesn’t have to be anything too spectacular, but some signs in the waiting room detailing the benefits of patient portals can certainly spark some interest from patients who are waiting.
This type of online access isn’t unexplored territory. Patients already enjoy this freedom with their bank accounts, credit reports, and so on. They want to be able to schedule appointments online. Make sure they know that they can.
Who knows, maybe they’ll download the app while they’re in the waiting room.
The key is to embrace patient portals – and other information technology for that matter – as a foundational element to the way healthcare works going forward. It’s already a reality. Patients simply need to be shown how easy it is to use.
Zach Watson is an analyst at TechnologyAdvice of Brentwood, TN.