How to Get Patients to Use the Patient Portal

by Dana Bensinger

It’s a question that persistently confounds healthcare providers: how to keep patients from leaving their network. This desire to prevent patient leakage stems from more than wanting to protect the bottom line. When patients go out of network, provider-to-provider communication is limited if it takes place at all, which puts patients at risk. This also sets the stage for the creation of duplicate patient records and patient record mismatching — all of which can lead to medical errors. It just makes sense to make every effort to keep the patient in-network.

Patient engagement is essential here. However, providers have found this to be another challenge on its own. It’s not that providers aren’t adopting patient engagement strategies; according to an MGMA survey, 90 percent of practices make a patient portal available for such engagement. The trouble is, patients aren’t using these portals in great enough numbers, according to research by the U.S. Government AccountabilityOffice.

The good news is, providers can tweak existing in-house solutions to significantly improve patient engagement. The key lies in making portal interfaces more like an online retail experience.
Think about our own interactions shopping on Amazon, or checking our credit scores on Credit Karma. Both have created a “one-stop shop” experience that gives consumers an impressive selection of features and information.

On Amazon, consumers can purchase almost anything, but also store their (digital) purchases on the site, such as movies, music and e-books. And, because Amazon uses AI that studies and remembers every interaction, the site “self learns” to become a customized experience, such as making recommendations for new items based on the consumer’s previous purchases. Credit Karma similarly offers different information and products — credit scores and credit offers — and also induces users to regularly visit the website by pushing out email alerts, such as when the user’s credit score changes.

The takeaway for providers: Consumer adoption is reliant on the user experience. If the experience meets or exceeds these needs, the user is likely to return and use the application again.

Of course, with patient portals, we have two user groups to satisfy — the patient and the provider. Successful patient portal adoption will occur only if both groups adopt and embrace the technology. To that end, patients need a compelling reason to visit the portal, while physicians and practice staff need a compelling reason to integrate portals into their work.

Successful patient adoption is directly tied to successful provider adoption.

With some optimization and workflow enhancements, the needs of both groups of portal users can be met.

An example would be Epic’s MyChart patient portal, which patients can use not only to access their medical records, but to make payments, view test results, schedule appointments, communicate
directly with their providers and much more. Additional optimization can further customize MyChart — and other patient portals — to the needs of a provider’s unique patient mix and community.

Given the benefits these capabilities can deliver, patients should be encouraged to refer to the portal frequently, and to share information on it, including social determinants of health information that patients might be less comfortable sharing in a face-to-face encounter. Yet it will be increasingly important for providers to have this information as healthcare evolves into a “whole-person health” model. At the same time, providers and their staff should be educated about the power of portals to inform and communicate with patients about their health and wellness.

While using portals as a primary patient engagement tool may strike some as depersonalizing the provider-patient relationship, the reality is it’s easier to connect with the majority of patients online than through any other medium. Patients are clearly telling providers where and how they want to be engaged. Providers that engage them there will keep patients both happy and in their networks.

Dana Bensinger is MSN, RN-BC, a client solution executive at CTG, an IT services provider.

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