Patients Need More Support to Use Patient Portals Effectively

By Tom Giannulli, MS, MD, Chief Medical Information Officer, Kareo

Patient portals have the potential to be a game-changer in healthcare. By providing access to medical records, lab tests, online bill pay, and other features, practices can help improve both outcomes and patient satisfaction, but we aren’t quite there yet. Two recent studies show that many patients aren’t even sure if their healthcare providers offer portals.

A study from Software Advice showed that while more than 30% of patients knew they did have portal access, 33% weren’t sure. Another report from TechnologyAdvice showed closer to 40% didn’t know if their provider had a portal.

This new research suggests that providers need to do a better job of promoting portals to patients and providing education and support so patients can get the most from portals. And there are several great ways to ensure that patients get the word about your portal and get the most out of it from there on out.

The first thing to keep in mind is that launching a patient portal is a long haul effort. You can’t just create a quick flier for patients and move on to something else. You need a marketing and communication plan and an ongoing strategy to continue supporting patients.

Make sure your staff have all used and tested the portal and they know how it works so they can answer questions and provide support. They should all be experts before you promote the portal to patients.

Communicate the launch of the portal through every channel possible. Send out a postcard to all patients. Email patients who have provided email to your practice. Share the launch of the portal on your website, blog, and social channels. Verbally mention the portal to patients at every interaction in the beginning.

Put the link to your portal on all other communications, including patient statements and lab results.

Provide a prescription (a simple handout that looks like a prescription that has the URL for access) for the portal. Healthcare providers should give patients a prescription to use the portal. It may not be appropriate for all patients but it is a good strategy for patients who are a little resistant to using the portal.

Designate a staff person to help those patients who may be struggling with accessing or using the portal. That staff person can show the patient the portal while they are at the practice and answer questions.

Take advantage of family caregivers. You can share the portal information with family caregivers as well. They may be in a better position to use the portal, and might be grateful for any tool that can make their job a little easier.

Finally, it is important for the practice to use the portal and be consistent about it. Respond to secure messages from patients quickly. If you are going to use it for lab results or refills, always use it. Your consistency will help promote more consistent use from patients as well.

And, once you have successfully launched your portal you can expect to see an increase in loyalty from patients because in the end, more engaging tools are what they want. In fact, 73% of patients are more loyal to their physician when there is access to a patient portal.

About Tom Giannulli, MS, MD

Tom Giannulli, M.D., M.S. is the chief medical information officer at Kareo. He is a respected innovator in the medical technology arena with more than 15 years of deep experience in mobile technology and medical software development. Previously, Tom was chief medical information officer at Epocrates and he was the founder and chief executive officer of Caretools, which developed the first iPhone-based EHR. Prior to that, Tom drove a number of key mobile healthcare technology innovations as VP of Advanced Research for Data Critical and the founder and CEO of Physix. He holds a M.S. in biomedical engineering from the University of Utah and earned his M.D. from the University of Texas at Houston where he completed his residency in internal medicine.

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