Gaining maximum advantage from your patient portal

December 8, 2014

Of all the information technology available to hospitals and practices, the patient portal can be especially challenging.

Of all the information technology available to hospitals and practices, the patient portal can be especially challenging. Some providers who have implemented portals wonder later why they bothered, given that so few of their patients even give it a try. What providers in this quandary need to realize is their patients likely wondered why they should bother.

The key to success is to think of the patient portal as an online destination much like any other. Providers who get it right realize tremendous gains in efficiency by relieving staff of interruptive tasks that can easily be handled via patient self-service, and they also gain an effective tool for strengthening relationships with existing patients. According to a 2011 Intuit study1, portals also give the physicians the opportunity to encourage new patients to come to their practice by offering the convenience of anytime, anywhere access to healthcare. Portals help physicians meet two main challenges: getting patients to try a portal the first time and most importantly, giving them reasons for coming back.

Getting patients to log in the first time

Simply telling patients a portal is now available and giving them log-in information won’t make them give it a try. Instead, go all-in on consumer:  drive patients to the portal by marketing it.

For example, one OB/GYN practice secured extremely high portal adoption by throwing an extended Hawaiian theme party in its waiting room, complete with leis, travel posters and kiosks decorated with palm trees where staff helped patients log into and navigate their new healthcare destination. Many providers have realized excellent results with well-placed and permanent placards, door signage, big boards in waiting rooms and other reminders of the portal’s conveniences for patients. In all cases, providing much more than a simple, single notice is essential to high adoption and satisfied patients.

Getting patients to keep coming back

Of course, one log-in is of little use; having patients repeatedly visit the portal requires that the conveniences promoted for it be very real and deliver consistent value. When a person visits any Internet site routinely, it’s because they derive meaningful encounters from it, and the patient portal is no different.

To a patient, a meaningful encounter largely means more convenient interaction and time savings. Think of all the ways in which patients engage in their care, and make sure the portal covers them simply and easily. The most beneficial portals offer at minimum the ability to schedule or request appointments, update personal information, communicate with the provider, pay bills and request prescription refills.

While some patients will prefer to continue communication by phone, those who understand the portal to offer the same 24/7 convenience they enjoy in online banking will gladly make it their preferred means of routine interaction.

NEXT: A few points to keep in mind

A few points to keep in mind

Consumers have four expectations about online destinations that apply to patient portals:

  • Security. From privacy of health information to credit-card safety, portal visitors need to know they are protected from data theft and misuse of their valuable information.

  • Easy Access. Virtually every consumer website has a simple mechanism for resetting a forgotten username or password. It will happen with the portal due to frequency of use. Don’t make patients have to call the office to handle something they expect to be automated.

  • Start with full functionality. Resist the temptation to go live with basic functions and enhance the portal later. Patients who find a portal lacking value on a first visit seldom return.

  • Outreach. In addition to making the portal a meaningful destination, consider an active patient engagement solution with electronic messaging for such items as appointment reminders and the availability of lab results, with links back to the portal.

Return on investment

In addition to relieving office staff through self-service, which in turn delivers value to patients as consumers, getting the portal right can help increase patient count. When Intuit surveyed U.S. healthcare consumers, nearly 50 percent said they would consider switching doctors for a practice that offers the ability to communicate and complete important healthcare tasks online.[1] Given the many advantages associated with a successful implementation and deployment, a patient portal can clearly represent one of the most advantageous health IT investments.

Scott Fannin is Greenway Health vice president of product management – interoperability.

[1] Intuit press release, Mar. 2, 2011, “Intuit Health Survey: Americans Worried About Costs; Want Greater Access to Physicians”