How to Unlock the Power of Your Patient Portal to Enhance Patient Engagement

By Will Siegelin

Patient portals have long been considered an easy way to provide patients with access to their health information and accept payments, but most practices are not using their portal to its ultimate potential. 

When implemented optimally, portals are powerful tools that can unlock the doors to a world of benefits for patients and providers alike – from patient engagement and better clinical outcomes to greater practice efficiency and support for meeting value-based goals.

Most practices today offer a patient portal – or they soon will. Nine out of 10 respondents to a Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) poll said they have a patient portal, with the remaining 10% indicating they intend to offer one soon. However, the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that fewer than 30% of patients actually use the portals, in part because many of them are not designed with the patient in mind. Portals can be static, hard to navigate and offer limited functionality, leaving patients frustrated and practices unable to maximize their investment in the technology.

Maximizing Your Patient Portal Investment to Enhance Patient Satisfaction

To efficiently harness the full potential of their portal, practices must strongly consider their technology selection, adopt best practices for implementation and think ahead about how the solutions’ utilization will evolve with healthcare innovation in the future. 

First, it’s important to realize not all portals are created equal. These web-based gateways may be connected to a provider’s EHR system and provide access to health data, but the level of information available to patients can be vastly different. 

Basic portals give simple access to billing and medical history. Feature-rich portals, however, provide users with important, real-time information – including lab and test results – and pull in data from multiple sources so patients have a clear view of their medical history, which provides further insights for navigating their health journey. For example, patients seek care from many sources – primary care doctors, urgent care clinics and specialists. And they also use personal fitness trackers and other at-home devices to measure blood pressure, blood sugar and other vitals. To get a complete patient health history, portals – powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning – can pull together all of this data into one place and enable doctors to address urgent or changing conditions that results in customized guidelines for treatments. 

How Portals Benefit Your Patients and Your People

Portals also have a direct impact on patient engagement. Because portals are more cost effective and can be accessed 24/7, they are a primary tool through which physicians and patients communicate. According to Louetta Sutton, Practice Administrator at Northern Ohio Family Practice, “patients appreciate having 24-hour access to their records, and we’ve noticed many are using this tool to ask questions online versus calling the practice.” Even better, patients can also use the portal to schedule appointments and even request refills outside of office visits. 

Alternatively, practices use portals to send reminders about visits or treatment plans and share useful and timely information to support value-based care. According to Sutton, this “helps our practice meet Comprehensive Primary Care Plus criteria, which is critical to reducing overall health care costs. In addition, using a patient portal significantly cuts down call volume time and frees up staff, enabling us to focus more on patient care. As a result, it’s clear this type of technology offering improves access to care and ensure providers have the information they need to assess health conditions and recommend next steps. 

Billing department staff can also depend on portals for revenue collection and to easily relay information about payment plans and options. Increasingly, too, portals are adding support for new service offerings, such as virtual visits for routine medical needs and check-ins between appointments. Virtual visits enable more convenient and timely care for patients and enable physicians to see more patients.

While the power of portals is clear, its crucial for practice staff to first carefully consider their needs – as well as the needs of their patients – before adopting a specific portal. By deploying platforms that are easy to use, deliver a rich set of features and are flexible enough to add new services in the future, practices can fully experience all of the benefits of today’s patient portals.

About the Author

Will Siegelin is a product manager at Greenway Health, a leading health information technology and services provider. He collaborates with Greenway partners to design solutions that streamline patient engagement strategies. His goal is to ensure that healthcare providers have the tools they need to care for patients without being kept behind a computer.

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