Patient Portals around the Country

Patient Portals around the Country

Attention: open in a new window. PDF | Print | E-mail

Patient portals can help patients become more engaged in their own health, better manage their healthcare decisions, and make the entire healthcare process more efficient. Portals can also increase patient loyalty and communication and improve health outcomes. Then why aren’t patients buying into this message? While the online patient portal is gaining some traction around the United States, 64 percent of Americans do not currently use them, according to a study by Xerox in late 2014.

This slow adoption rate may be due to lack of awareness that a patient portal exists. A 2014 Software Advice survey of U.S. patients concluded that only one third of patients have access to a portal, and a whopping two-thirds do not or are unsure if they even have access to a patient portal. This may be due in part to a lack of communication on the provider’s part that a patient portal is available.

Patient Portal Myths and Best Practices:

As part of an Athenahealth patient portal study, more than 1,100 provider groups were studied to determine qualities for success. The results helped to debunk several myths, including:

  • All age groups were using patient portals – including older patients in their 60s and 70s.
  • Practices of all sizes were seeing similar adoption rates (around 25 percent).

The study also concluded that the top performing portals generally saw a greater adoption rate over time – meaning that practices should simply take that first step in creating the portal, and move forward from there. In-office registration via kiosk, tablet or computer was the overwhelmingly greatest yield for first-time portal users, so providers should consider having a method for users to sign up on-site for best results.

What should patient portals offer?

Patients who do use online portals — which are conveniently available 24-hours a day — use them to handle any number of interactions, including:

  • Updating patient information
  • Patient intake and pre-registration forms and documents
  • Appointment scheduling and reminders
  • Accessing patient records
  • Lab, radiology and other test results
  • Prescription medication refill requests
  • Online bill review and payment
  • Message and alert notifications
  • Specialist referrals
  • Patient education and enrichment

Part of the issue with patient portal adoption may be that healthcare providers need to focus less on meeting Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements (calling for providers to have patient portals and for 5 percent of patients to use them) and focus instead on the specific needs of the patients themselves when developing features of their patient portals.

At a minimum, patient portals should enable patients to access their full medical records and update personal information. Beyond those basic requirements, portals should be a place for each provider to customize the patient interaction based on their specific practice needs and workflow. For instance, do patients seek information that is readily available via smartphone or online applications? Do they care more about scheduling appointments, interacting with the physician, or finding educational articles on a specific condition?

Implementing a Patient Portal

Working with your EHR vendor, portal solution provider, and/or an implementation consultant like CoreTech Revolution will help you to make the most out of your patient portal project. One of the first steps in the process involves assessing your patients’ readiness for a patient portal. Other questions might include:

  • What kind of communication, education and marketing will you need to do to encourage people to visit the patient portal?
  • Which portal vendor is right for our organization?
  • How will implementing this portal impact our current workflow?
  • How can we connect our patient portal to our EHR system and our HIE?
  • Will our portal be secure, user-friendly and MU ready?

These are questions that your internal IT staff, vendors, consultants or technology integrators can help you answer and keep in mind as you implement your patient portal.

Examples of Good Patient Portals

Approximately 50 percent of U.S. hospitals use some type of patient portal technology, mostly acquired as a module of their practice management or EHR system, according to a study by Frost and Sullivan (Source: Health Care IT News). Looking to some of the largest patient portals in the country gives us some insight as to what makes them successful:

Seattle, Washington-based hospital system Virginia Mason has a more than 30 percent adoption rate into its patient portal, called MyVirginiaMason, with the help of portal provider Cerner. While the Seattle patient population may be highly tech-savvy, the organization has marketed the portal greatly, with an emphasis on the benefits to the patients. The institution offers convenient, 5-minute enrollment into the portal with a state-issued identification card, either in-person or over the phone with a 24-hour support staff to assist. They have also encouraged patients to interact with physicians via the portal, sending and receiving more than 11,000 secure messages per week in the fall of 2013 alone. Cerner’s patient portal boasts good functionality plus integration into its EMR system as an added benefit.

The nonprofit health plan organization and medical groups of Northern California’s Kaiser Permanente have had relative success with their Epic Systems online patient portal, which in 2014 had 4.1 of its 9.1 million members using the system. Their website encourages patients with an immediate sign-in prompt from the home page. Kaiser Permanente has even gone as far as to track patient outcomes related to portal usage. When following its nearly 18,000 patients with diabetes who used the portal to request statin refills, they discovered a six percent decrease in high cholesterol levels as well as decreased medication non-adherence.

St. Anthony’s Medical Center in St. Louis achieved its goal of getting patients actively using its patient portal by assigning a full-time care manager to patients upon discharge, who would help introduce them to the patient portal, encourage sign-ups, and train them on how to retrieve information via the portal. When implementing new technologies, the organization suggests approaching the project from a quality standpoint to benefit patients, rather than strictly an IT standpoint. They also recognize the importance of making implementation a team effort between both the IT and clinical staff to ensure success.

The Future of Patient Portals

While patient portals won’t replace the provider-patient interaction just yet, they may be the key to enhancing patient engagement and improving healthcare outcomes. If providers viewed their patient portal strategy with the patient in mind, perhaps the industry would see a more steady growth of patient portal use.