According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 20% of family physicians were using patient portals by 2010 – mainly for appointment scheduling and sharing of information. By 2011, 14% of physicians were using Patient Health Records (PHR) on a daily basis. In a few cases, PHRs were made available through provider based patient portals. More recently, a study by KLAS Research finds that most of the surveyed health systems and clinics have implemented a patient portal of some kind.
Driving patient portal adoption
One of the earliest deployers of patient portals, Kaiser Permanente, did struggle initially in getting patients to use the portal. Over a span of three years (2004-2007), they understood that the key is to include features that make sense to patients. In early days, the portal was mostly used for prescription refills, facility directory and educational material. By 2006, the popular features were online lab test results and e-mails to doctors or caregivers. The latter features created a surge in website registrations, from 9% to 27%.
Patient portals also need to be as simple and intuitive as possible. It’s hard enough to get patients to access healthcare related applications once they’re out of the doctor’s office. What you don’t need is a user unfriendly interface driving them away. Mobile or web, patient portals must be efficient, clean and responsive. Enterprise mobility solutions ensure high performance, tight integration with Hospital Information Systems (HIS) and Laboratory Information Systems (LIS), and patient data security and safety through HIPAA and HL7 compliance.
Finally, providers need to create awareness of the portal by telling patients about it in the doctor’s office. Patients can be informed through fliers, banners, emails, the provider’s website and social media.
Desirable features of patient portals
Subsequent studies by Kaiser and other organizations show that the features most appreciated by patients in patient portals include:
- Online appointment scheduling
- Requesting prescription refills
- Connectivity with care teams (secure email, call features, etc.)
- Viewing key components of medical records
- Authorizing a family member to access their medical information
- Making clinical transactions – bill payments, access to statements, etc.
- Receiving information that supports informed decision making
- Updating personal demographic details such as address
Other features that are not available across all patient portals but figure high on patients’ and providers’ ‘must have’ lists include:
- Submission of referral forms
- Intake forms
- Access to family history
- Integration of patient portal information with health monitoring tools and mobile health solutions
- Adding attachments to medical records
- Access to health information relevant to patient-doctor encounters
Patient portals not only drive patient engagement but also help providers save money by automating regular processes. The increased patient-doctor communication reduces readmission rates, enhances patient loyalty and trust, and helps them make healthier lifestyle choices.
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