How To Maximize the Patient Portal

maximize your patient portalCongratulations on getting a patient portal for your practice!  An August, 2015 study, published in Health Affairs, found that only 10.4 percent of practices met the meaningful use objectives of providing a patient portal.

This year, eligible providers who don’t meet the requirements for Meaningful Use, stage 2, will suffer the 1% Medicare penalty.  While stage 2 has 20 core objectives, two of the most challenging will likely be: 1) 50% of your patients must be able to access their health information online in a timely manner, and 2) more than 5% of patients must actually use the providers’ patient portals. This means that not only do your patients need to be enrolled in your patient portal, at least 5% need to actually be using it.

Just having a patient portal is not a build it and they will come venture.  You must be actively involved and your staff also has to be ready, willing and actively engaged in getting your patients to sign up.

Yes, patient portals can be great tools.  They can be very beneficial to your patients.  They can improved office workflow and save your staff time.  But, before you can realize these benefits you must actually get patients and staff to use it.  Here are some tried and true tips that other practices have used that will help maximize your patient portal in no time.

GET THE WHOLE OFFICE INVOLVED

Your staff has a real opportunity to promote the patient portal at every patient interaction.  Educate the staff to see how the patient portal will improve their workflow.  When patients can make appointments, pay bills, and message their provider it means less phone calls to the office.  It also means that patients can complete the patient registration/check-in process faster.

A very busy orthopedic practice saw every patient interaction as a chance to promote the patient portal.  In the end, 25% of their patients were actively using the portal.  Here are some of the things this practice implemented.

  1. Every staff member had a script to ‘talk up’ the benefits of patient portal to patients;
  2. When patients called for an appointment, the staff reminded patients they could make their next appointment online;
  3. The practice utilized the appointment reminder feature to encourage patients to register for the patient portal;
  4. Staff reminded patients that they could pay their bills online;
  5. The practice engaged their billing company to help promote the patient portal both when talking to patients and by putting a message on the patient statements; and
  6. Before the physician left the exam room patients were reminded that they can access lab results, send secure messages or get other information relative to the practice.

MARKET THE PATIENT PORTAL

Are you promoting the patient portal the right way?  Don’t tell patients about the features.  Instead, tell them how it benefits them.  Saying the portal has ‘secure messaging’ or an ‘appointment calendar’ isn’t enough.  Tell them they can communicate directly with you when it is convenient for them.  Or, you know their time is valuable too so now they don’t have to call the office, during office hours, or wait on the phone.

Every piece of marketing collateral must promote the patient portal.  Create a non-page handout, explaining the benefits and how to register.  It is important to give them clear instructions on how to register.  Have your staff try out the instructions so that you know you have covered every ‘how to’ step.  This will also ensure that staff knows how to explain it to patients.

Add it to your website; your automated appointment reminder; brochures,  and Facebook page, if you have one.  Also, the new patient packet offers a good opportunity to introduce the patient portal.

DON’T FORGET YOUR OLDER PATIENTS

Don’t assume that your older patients won’t or can’t sign up for the patient portal.  Kaiser Permanente is the best example of effectively using their patient portal, My Health Manager, the largest private-sector patient portal in the United States.  In the third quarter of 2015, Kaiser had more than 5.2 million or 70 percent of adult members registered and actively using their patient portal.

Kaiser reports that the older patient was actually eager to register.  They appreciated the access to their healthcare providers, lab results, the ease of making their next appointment and make payments.

They may need a little extra help registering and navigating the patient portal but the time spent is well worth it.  Remember, it will ultimately cut down on time spent by your office staff.

TRACK YOUR ENGAGEMENT NUMBERS

Tracking the number of patients who are actively engaged with your portal will tell you what you are doing right and where you might make improvements.  They key to success is patient awareness.  Make sure both your staff and your patients know how to use it and that they understand how the portal benefits them.  Then watch your engagement numbers grow.  You will find that your office is more efficient, patient payments are collected faster, patients appreciate the increased interaction and you will meet Meaningful Use.  A win for all.