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Patient Portal Adoption: From 5% to 20% and Beyond

Patient access to clinical data is one of the most difficult-to-achieve aspects of meaningful use. Currently, only 5% of patients are required to be accessing data, but with meaningful use Stage 3 looming, the impending demands of payment reform, and the anticipated benefits of patient engagement in the value-based-care world, many providers are ramping up their patient portal efforts and are getting adoption rates well north of 20%. 

Aside from helping to appease government regulators and maximize reimbursements, patient portals can have a very real effect on patient care. A recent New York Times article entitled “The Healing Power of Your Own Medical Records” cited the following about patients who were given access to physician notes: “In a yearlong evaluation project at medical groups in three states, more than two-thirds of the patients reported having a better understanding of their health and medical conditions, adopting healthier habits, and taking their medications as prescribed more regularly.”1

Because of the benefits patient portals can provide to both patients and healthcare organizations, KLAS recently published a report entitled “Patient Portals 2015: Adoption beyond Meaningful Use.” For this report, we interviewed 186 healthcare providers to find out which vendors are best meeting current needs while also developing solutions for a more strategic tomorrow.

We asked providers what best practices for patient portal adoption they would pass along to other providers trying to improve their rates. The following are their suggestions:

1. Educate patients
“What contributes to adoption is educating our patients about the portal, helping them sign up, and encouraging them to use it. But education is key. Patients have embraced the portal and use it for much of our communication, bill pay, results review, and more.”

2. Educate patients—again and again
“We ask patients on the phone whether they have signed up for the portal, and at their appointments we check to see whether they have filled things out on the portal. Then the medical assistants who greet the patients ask whether they have put their information on the portal. We promote the portal five or six times. On their way out, the doctors tell the patients that they are going to send their results to the portal.”

3. Educate staff members as if they were patients
“The patients get inundated and get tired of hearing it, but it was the kickoff that got everybody in the practice used to pushing the portal. We also made everyone here register on the portal to see what the patients would go through and so we could make changes and adjustments to fit our needs. It is an ongoing process, and we try to do contests every quarter. That is what contributes to our success, and it is pretty impressive.”

4. Give patients a reason to use the portal
“We are apparently doing something right in encouraging patients to come to our portal. They come to the portal to fill out the patient history and the medication list. I think that is because of the way our front desk staff makes new-patient appointments and the way they present the portal to the patients. They tell them that we can give them less waiting time when they come in if they get on the portal. We have an aggressive sign-up process. We give patients a Chromebook in the waiting room and help them sign up for the portal right away. We have a similar process in the ED and inpatient areas. We try to push as much content to the portal as possible.”

5. Talk to your vendor and physicians
“We drove adoption from the top down. In our initial phase, the adoption didn’t go well because we thought we knew what we were doing and could do it ourselves. We went back and listened to Medfusion. We took the portal to the doctors who understand technology. They came back from a CMS meeting and said we had to do the portal. They said we might not like it, but we have to do it.”

6. Hold your vendor accountable
“When we started to deploy Empower in our ambulatory area, we hit challenges and barriers with the physician group. The physicians really wanted to yank the product out; they didn’t want anything to do with it. They were beyond frustrated. We worked with MEDSEEK and the physicians, and in the last year and a half, we went from having a handful of patients on the portal to having 65,000. We were finally able to leverage the solution in the ambulatory space after we made changes to the product and the interface. There were deal breakers in how the product looked and felt from a patient perspective, and we worked through those.”

To get a copy of this report and to learn which vendors providers report as best meeting their needs, please email my colleague meradyth.moore@klasresearch.com. The report is free for providers.

1Lohr, Steve (2015, March 31). The Healing Power of Your Own Medical Records. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://nyti.ms/1GcMEpE