Medical technology has undergone dramatic changes in the last 10 years. Right now, I make and cancel appointments, get prescriptions filled, look at test results, pay bills and email my doctor—all from my computer. I track multiple health markers on my cellphone, and am proactive about my preventive screenings. I am the definition of an engaged patient.
But, I know how the system works from the inside out. The question for most doctors is how to teach patients to be more engaged with the convoluted, fragmented, and confusing healthcare system. They are asking this because they are struggling to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2 requirements.
Most docs complain that the 5% patient portal requirement is unfair because it is out of their control. Maybe it is, or maybe there are smarter ways to work the system in their favor that they just don’t know about.
If you have an appointment reminder system that integrates with your EHR you can set up a good reminder system so that you will see your patients at least once a year for a checkup. This year I started making all appointments digitally through a system that automatically sends out reminders to my patients via text and email. My patients loved it, and I got a lot of positive reviews in the process.
Then I had an idea to add a link advertising my patient portal at the end of my text and email appointment reminders. My rates of portal use skyrocketed. In my new patient welcome package, I make it clear to new patients that email is not a safe place to contact me and that using the portal is the only way they can be sure messages are secure to HIPAA standards. But, that’s mostly for me. What patients respond to is how I explain the benefits of the portal in a way that shows how it will make their lives easier.
There are definitely medical practices that have an EMR and patient portal but have failed at implementation. I asked one of my patients to get her most recent lab results from her primary doctor. The city clinic told her she had to come in to get a paper copy and that they couldn’t send them to her digitally. She was reasonably upset. The hassle of having to go out of her way to get them was a huge disappointment.
Here is an example of a better patient experience. I received some lab results online through my doctor’s portal and noticed that they were processed incorrectly. I emailed my doctor and she not only emailed me to schedule me for a repeat lab, but her office called me to make the appointment. I felt my needs were taken care of. I was engaged in the entire process and it gave me a deeper sense of trust in my doctor that she truly cared.
It’s not surprising that the health maintenance organization I use has 25% patient engagement rates. Well above the 5% requirement. From day one, every single piece of communication I received from this provider had advertising about the online portal. It’s unavoidably obvious that they want me to use it.
We know that sending out expensive mailers and hanging up signs in an office are examples of a bad strategies for increasing patient portal use. It makes little sense to use a paper means of popularizing a digital technology. The offices that are winning at patient engagement are the promoting their portals through consistent digital communication with their patient panel.
To optimize your level of patient portal engagement you might want to see if your software has the following:
A scheduling system that is integrated in your EHR and automates appointment reminders through text and email.
The ability to add custom text to automated appointment reminders so that you can advertise your portal.
A mobile friendly portal that patients can access through their phone or tablet when they get the invitation through their appointment reminder.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a mobile friendly patient portal. If a patient clicks a link on their phone and is led to a website that lacks responsive design, they may not be able to use the portal because they will give up after trying to resize the page to fill in their login criteria. The entire experience from reminder, to sign up has to be seamless. This is why it’s important to think about how patients use technology so that your solutions fit their needs just as much as yours.
Let’s face it, we can wait a lifetime for patients to take ownership of their health, but as long as the government is mandating 5%, we need to find solutions that will work for our practices. Hopefully this article gives you a new strategy for achieving your goals.
Molly Maloof MD runs a boutique medical practice in San Francisco & consults with tech start ups. Follow her @MollyMaloofMD.