Patient Portals: Huge potential but still many barriers to use
Megan Douglas, JD
Associate Project Director, HIT Policy
"If the Stage 3 proposed rules are any indication, it is likely that the Meaningful Use requirements related to patient portals will undergo changes in the future. Given the struggles that practices have had implementing effective patient portals..."
ONC: How to Use a Patient Portal
As more and more physicians’ offices and other providers begin to take the first step in setting up a patient portal, I thought it would be interesting to tell our story about how our office implemented and uses a portal. The lessons we learned may be helpful for you as Meaningful Use Stage 2 deadlines for patient portal use approach. And we would love to connect with others who have tackled and solved similar situations
Our organization – 75 providers in Orange County, Calif.-based St Joseph Heritage Medical Group and 150 providers in our sister organization, St. Jude Heritage Medical Group, have been fully implemented on Allscripts Enterprise E.H.R. since 2005. Early on, we recognized the value of a secure patient portal that could spur online communication between us and our patients. Our first two portals, allowed patients to communicate securely with providers and allowed patients to develop a personal health record. Initial obstacles to success mainly centered on provider reluctance to adopt online patient communications. Providers were terrified that, like e-mail, the volume of messages would sky rocket.
To address some of those concerns, our initial efforts were educational. We looked at published data and the personal experience of a small group of providers to dispel the notion of overuse by patients, and promote the positive aspects of online patient communication – namely the ability to respond to patients asynchronously, when it was convenient for providers. It was easier, quicker and more complete than the telephones we were all used to using for patient communication. Providers who embraced this message actively engaged their patients and actively promoted registering for the portal. We were pleased with the adoption of the portal for this core group of providers, but sought to expand registration to include patients from all providers. We decided to incentivize registration, providing specific monetary bonuses for providers who achieved 50 and then 100 registrations in a year. The lesson learned in this initial phase was two-fold – incentives helped, but were no substitute for provider promotion of the portal to patients.