November 6, 2015

Patient portals are intended to help providers connect with patients in order to help them take a more active role in their health and wellness.

Recent research shows that data sharing through electronic health records (EHR) and patient portals can in fact improve medication adherence, boost satisfaction and improve patient engagement. A two-year study conducted by Geisinger Health System found that patients whose primary care providers shared progress notes with them through their portals were about 5 percent more likely to adhere to their antihypertensive medication regimens.

With an eye on improving outcomes, CMS has included Meaningful Use requirements tied to patient portals. But getting providers, payers, pharmacists and patients all playing together seamlessly can take some planning.

Overcoming Patient Portal Roadblocks

Despite Meaningful Use deadlines on the horizon, there are some roadblocks to patient portal implementation.

  • Lack of incentive. In practices that are still in a fee-for-service environment, the incentive to utilize patient portals is much lower—providers aren’t reimbursed for the time and energy spent caring for patients via the portal, and patient portal use can reduce visits to the office. As more and more markets shift to value-based care over volume-based care, portal use will become more common.
  • At-risk populations aren’t engaging. The populations of patients that could benefit the most from portal engagement often don’t use them. Elderly patients, those with chronic conditions or comorbidities for example, tend to skip out. People without an email address, or whose primary language isn’t English, face real barriers. Signing patients up to use the portal in the office, referring them to the portal often, following up and emphasizing that the portal is a supplement to care can help encourage patients to engage digitally.
  • Start-up costs. A lack of appropriate staffing can cause portal efforts to misfire. Messages must be responded to in a timely manner in order for two-way communication via the portal to make an impact. The costs of purchasing a portal and then staffing appropriately can stand in the way of smaller practices getting up and running. However, over time patient portal use can increase efficiency and even lower costs for providers.

Also, offering patients the ability to request referrals, prescription refills and schedule appointments with providers has been shown to improve engagement with portals.

In what ways have you found patient portals useful in your business? What tips for successful implementation have you found? Share with us in the comments.

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