Stage 3 of Meaningful Use, more than 25% of a healthcare provider’s patients must actively engage with their electronic health records, presumably via a patient portal in most cases. Many of the inefficiency problems plaguing doctors and hospitals will allegedly be solved with the help of patient portals, as they’ll serve to organize data, facilitate communication, decrease costs, and, perhaps most importantly, contribute to increased patient engagement.
Given all the buzz around patient portals, it may be easy for providers to fall back on them as a quick fix for multiple issues. But how much can we really rely on portals to effectively engage patients? What should the true goal of a patient portal be? And, are there scenarios where use of a portal could actually detract from a patient’s experience rather than enhance it?
According to research firm HIMSS Analytics, the term patient engagement refers to ‘an organization’s strategy to get patients involved in actively and knowledgeably managing their own health and wellness and that of family members and others for whom they have responsibility.’ Whether due to an overly complicated system, a lack of sufficient access to information, or other reasons, a large percentage of American patients simply do not take an active role in their own healthcare. However, links between increased patient engagement and better clinical outcomes are clear.
There are a few key metrics providers should consider when implementing a patient portal. Portals that emphasize the following features are more likely to engage patients and decrease costs.
Patient portals can bring many positive changes to the healthcare space, but providers can’t rely solely on them to increase patient engagement. In fact, recent studies have shown that many patients are dissatisfied with portals and don’t feel they’re adding value. When might portals have a negative effect, leaving patients annoyed or confused? Imagine visiting your doctor after feeling ill for some time, then logging into a portal the following week only to see a fatal diagnosis pop up on the screen. You’d likely feel angry and helpless, and all you’d have to help you is the words on the screen. Human compassion can’t be replicated by a computer program, no matter how sophisticated the program is. Healthcare providers must take the time to discern between appropriate portal use and those situations where direct interaction is the best way to go. While solutions such as the BlueEHS patient portal can get providers on the right track, it’s important not to dismiss continued efforts at patient engagement across the entire continuum of care.