When patient portals first entered the health IT scene on the tailwind of the HITECH Act, the purpose was to promote the adoption and meaningful use of health information technology-namely electronic health record systems.
To encourage healthcare organizations of all sizes to adopt this expensive technology, government funds were allocated to businesses that met certain criteria that proved they were making meaningful use of these new systems - the Meaningful Use Stage 1 and Stage 2 programs. Some of the measures required to qualify for government dollars related to making health data electronically available to patients.
And to do this, patient portals - secure online communication sites - were born.
Organizations often implemented portals reluctantly in those early days-they were clunky and it was yet more IT infrastructure on top of an already-new EHR.
But then something interesting happened: portals evolved from being simply a way for practices to dutifully share health data, to an integral tool to running a profitable business. Increasingly patient portal adoption now has a direct impact on an organization that goes far beyond clinical outcomes to include increasing patient accounts receivable, and higher average patient pay yield, just to name a few.
Successful organizations use their modern patient portal as the foundation for their patient engagement strategy.
Practices that use portals average an 80% retention compared to a 67% retention rates for practices without a portal. These retention rates show the demand by patients for deeper access to the healthcare system. Successful organizations go beyond secure messaging to empower patients with self-scheduling for routine appointments, prescription renewal requests (pre-populated with known medications), and sending CCDs to give patients access to key clinical data.
SEE ALSO: The Patient Engagement Equation
A full-featured patient portal can aggregate information flows between patients and providers-benefit both parties. By consolidating clinical messages in an easy-to-manage workflow, clinical staff can efficiently handle inbound communications and return answers without the "phone tag" elements from the past. As the industry moves to value-based reimbursement models, it elevates the importance of being digitally connected to patients.
Implementation & Optimization
Ensure all aspects of the organization plug-in to your portal. A portal can now cover front-office, clinical and back-office functions, easing burdens on medical staff the entire way. Ensure that everyone in your organizations understands how the portal can positively impact their workflow
Be mobile-forward. With two-thirds of Americas adults having smart phones, mobile is the future of communications. And nearly 40 percent of the time patients attempt to access their patient portal from a mobile device. Users will quickly abort attempts to use a non-mobile-friendly website or service, and patient portals must be mobile-friendly from day one.
Establish a timeline. Patient portals are full of features that can improve the patient experience and simplify administrative functions. Determine exactly what features to "going live" with and how that impacts workflows. If there are additional functionalities to be rolled out in the future-keep those on the radar so they don't slip off. It can be tempting in the day-to-day to rely on the tools currently deployed and to forget about the other functionalities-which can continue to drive revenue and efficiency for your organization.
Blur the lines between front-desk, back-office and clinical. Look to centralize as many practice/organization-based processes as possible in the portal. Patients don't want to have to go one place to pay a bill, another to see lab results and yet another to request an appointment. The portal should become a patient's one-stop shop-and the entire staff should direct patients there as the first point of engagement. Include the address of your portal, or a call-to-action to visit the portal on everything from paper and e-statements, to appointment reminder cards, to voicemail and on-hold messages, to posters and table tents in the office.
Give patients access to their data. In the early days of Meaningful Use attesting, it was enough to use a portal for secure messaging and nothing else. Patients expect more access, and value-based reimbursement models demand more digital communications. Sending CCDs (continuity of care documents) are not just about getting MU numbers up. Empowered patients want access to healthcare data to understand their care plans, trends and next-steps. And "if you build it, they will come!" as 80% of Americans who have access to the information in their electronic health record-use it!
Bridging the Divide
From narrow beginnings focused on secure communications, feature-rich portals have become a must-have for an efficient practice. They bridge the divide between the patient and provider, giving 24/7 access to empowered patients, while streamlining workflows and reducing administrative burdens on staff. As consumerism trends continue to push healthcare into a more self-serve model, portals will continue to be foundation from which to drive patient engagement.
Kim Labow is CEO of Cary, NC-based Medfusion.