How to Create a Meaningful Experience for Your Patients on the Portal

Many healthcare professionals (HCPs) have made tremendous headway in incorporating electronic health records (EHRs) and patient portals into their practices to meet meaningful use requirements and facilitate patient engagement. Many patients also have been using patient portals. A recent survey from the National Partnership for Women & Families of 2,045 adults found that 86% of patients with online access to their EHRs use it, and they have more knowledge about their health and a desire to “do something” to improve their health. This, in addition to other trends, shows that patients and caregivers want access to their personal health information through secure online portals.

Based on the results of three recent surveys, there is still considerable opportunity to educate patients about why patient portals are important in their own care (surveys are from Harris/Xerox, Technology Advice and Software Advice). According to the surveys, up to two thirds of patients aren’t using patient portals for various reasons. According to one of the surveys, of patients who currently don’t use portals, approximately half said they would be “much more interested and proactive in their personal healthcare” if they had online access to their medical records. Now that we are embarking on a New Year, it’s a good time for you as a healthcare professional to take a fresh look at what you can do to increase your patients’ use of your portal.

Before providing tips on ways to encourage patients to use portals, it is important to understand why some patients haven’t been using them.

The first reason why patients aren’t using portals is that they don’t know they exist or their doctor didn’t talk to them about it.

The second reason why patients don’t use their portal is it’s not user friendly. So make sure that you select a portal that is easy to use, easy to navigate and built for patients. Here are some recommendations and key considerations on user-friendly patient portals:

Focus on user experience and functionality. Use your clinic’s branding (i.e. your practice’s logo, color palette, font) for your portal and focus on the most important tasks patients will do (i.e. viewing test results, securely emailing with clinicians, accessing personalized educational materials)
• Pay attention to how information is presented. Deliver and display information in a way that is easy to understand and actionable for patients. For some great examples of how this could be done click here
• Use understandable language; change text for advanced readers (i.e patients with longer term, chronic conditions)
• Provide relevant, engaging and personalized content.

At Navigating Cancer we work with our clinic customers to ensure that their patient portals are designed with those and other important considerations in mind. We also conduct quarterly patient surveys to ensure we are meeting our patient customers’ needs.

Here are some other key reasons why patients aren’t using portals:

1. Confusion or concern about security of their health information in a digital format
2. Worry that they are violating HIPAA rules or actually permitting CMS to access their own records
3. Confusing interface and unresponsive clinical staff
4. Irrelevant or un-engaging content
5. HCPs not using the portals themselves
6. Preference to hear from their physicians over the phone for some patients
7. Cultural assumptions, fear, finances

There will always be some patients who prefer offline communications and who are driven by cultural and other factors but overall the evidence suggests that patient engagement is a matter of physician-patient communications and not a health information technology (HIT) issue.

With that in mind, here are some key things you as healthcare providers can do to increase your patients’ use of the portal:
1. Train your staff so they understand the benefits to the patient and to the clinic; provide talking points
2. Capture email addresses for every patient. Always ask: “Do we have your email address?”
3. Have a staff member walk patients through logging into their patient portal at least once to increase comfort levels
4. Routinely communicate with your patients via the portal to get them accustomed to using the portal; periodically encourage them to use the portal by reinforcing advantages. Example messages could be: “You can now access your lab results, blood pressure targets and more any time on our portal”; If you have any questions, you can send a secure message to your doctor or nurse”; “I encourage you to review your doctor’s notes from your last visit.”
5. Create simple marketing materials that clearly explain the portal and address typical concerns (i.e. security, HIPAA). Examples are a card, poster and/or FAQ placed at the front desk and in waiting areas.
6. Simply talk to your patients during their regular office visits about what the patient portal is as well as its benefits for them. According to a recent study published in The Annals of Family Medicine, this was better than both mailing campaigns and advertising in increasing patient use of the technology.
7. Ensure you have the workflow to answer patients’ questions about the portal.

With the support, encouragement and promotion of patient portals by physicians and clinic staff – especially during office visits – patients and caregivers will increasingly use portals with the end goal of having a better care experience.

We would love to hear what has worked well for you and your patients. Please let us know by clicking here.

If Navigating Cancer can assist you with your portal or specific patient engagement tools, please contact us here.

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