One of the most prolific technological changes to come out of the Affordable Care Act and health industry reform is the use of the patient portal. It is a designated requirement for Meaningful Use Stage 2 and part of the plan to implement coordinated care and electronic patient records. It remains unclear how the use of patient portals will affect the health sector, though.
A 2013 systematic review of different studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicates little short-term impact, but it is still new technology with a potential long-term effect. With that in mind, practices and hospitals continue to offer and market portals to encourage patients to be participants in their own health care. The question is how effective are they in engaging patients and enhancing care options?
Why Focus on Patient Engagement
One of the top goals for implementing these interactive portals is to encourage patient engagement. The concept is becoming critical across all health disciplines. It is built on the idea that patients are the biggest stakeholders in their health care and decision making. A patient portal gives them access to information that allows them to stay informed about their treatments and individualized care options. The portal does more than that, though. It gives a culture that is becoming more and more reliant on technology as a venue to use to communicate with healthcare providers.
Build It and They Will Come
The build it and they will come theory works with patient portals as long as providers facilitate their enrollment. The first step is to institute an automatic enrollment policy – just discussing the portal with patients in the office or offering a handout with an IP address on it is not sufficient.
With an automatic enrollment policy, you create a partial account for each new patient, instead. This takes some of the hassles out of the enrollment process, so patients are more eager to participate. Through automated enrollment, you give patients interactive access to:
- Prescription refill requests
- Appointment scheduling
- Screening recommendations
- Care education and tools
If you make the portal part of the patient care plan and simplify enrollment, you encourage interaction.
Streamline Care with the Right Interactive Features
The patient portal is more than a communication tool to improve the patient/provider relationship. It also provides practices a way to streamline some of the administrative tasks and to easily network with healthcare partners such as imaging services, specialists, pharmacies and labs.
Studies show it takes an average of eight minutes to book an appoint over the phone. The portal provides tech-friendly patients another option. In 2014, Kaiser Permanente reported they had more than 10 million users enrolled in their health management portal. Through this technology, they were able to schedule 4 million appointments and refill over 17 million prescriptions.
The portal is a source of information for patients, as well, that saves the staff time. They get clear instructions on:
- How to make an appointment?
- What they need to bring to the office
- How to refill their prescriptions online
- How to transfer prescriptions
With enhanced transparency and streamlined functions, staff members focus more on care and improving patient outcomes. A well-designed patient portal offers long-term benefits to healthcare consumers and providers by supplying them with aggregated data, improved connectivity and a platform for the seamless and secure exchange of information.