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The healthcare world is all abuzz about patient engagement. In simple terms, practices and providers are required to engage more with patients to improve overall health outcomes and help patients take a more proactive role in their health.

And to reinforce this need for improved provider/patient engagement is Meaningful Use Stage 2. MU Stage 2 requires providers and patients to be more proactive with health and wellness initiatives. Specifically MU Stage 2 calls for practices to share patient health information online through secure messaging. 

So how can providers encourage patients to have a more active role in managing their health?

Enter the patient portal – a secure online website that gives patients convenient 24-hour access to personal health information from anywhere with an Internet connection. Using a secure username and password, patients can view health information and their personal health records. 

Sounds easy enough, right? But not so fast. Patients have been slow to respond. Practices across the country are struggling to get patients to sign up for the portal. And furthermore, for the small group that does sign up, many don’t actively use it. According to a report by the California Healthcare Foundation, adoption rates of excellent patient portals are only 25 percent.

The Research

Various research shows nearly 40% of patients don’t even know if their physician offers a patient portal, with 34% saying it is confusing. Other findings show:

  1. Patients have no interest 
  2. Even if they sign up, they don’t use it.
  3. 85% of patients want face-to-face access with their physician.
  4. From a patient’s perspective most of the content is not relevant.

With more than 90% of patients today reporting they want access to their health information online; and nearly 20% of smartphone owners (Pew Research Study) downloading an app to track and manage their health, portal adoption should be easy.

Diagnosing the Problem

So let’s start at the very beginning. There are several contributing factors playing into sluggish patient portal adoption rates.

  1. The portal is talked about as a benefit to the practice, saving staff time, helping doctors see more patients and getting practices more money.
  2. The focus on the patient as a consumer can’t be talked about enough. You can’t just TELL patients to sign up. You need to give them a reason, a benefit to them. Make them care personally.
  3. Practices don’t speak benefits and features. Online prescription refill requests, patient education material, bill pay, and scheduling tend to be the most intriguing.
  4. Give them a compelling reason to sign in.
    • Saves patients time! No more long on-hold messages
    • Access information 24/7
    • Convenient – access anywhere there is Internet connection
    • Helps a patient take ownership of their health
    • See important information – doctor’s notes, lab results, appointment scheduling, prescriptions and more

I Can’t Hear You!

So take a hard look. Are you really talking to your patients about the portal? Are you training your staff and physicians to talk about the patient portal with all of your patients? Physician attitude toward the portal is the primary indicator of how likely patients are to adopt the technology. 

Don’t just assume because you posted a sign or mentioned it in passing at checkout that patients really heard you.

Remember patients get 5,000 messages a day. And research tells us that a person needs to see or hear a message at least 4 times before they take the necessary action.

So multiple touch points is a good thing. Those practices with the highest adoption rates aggressively market their patient portals using brochures, posters, mailing inserts, telephone calls, and other informational materials.

7 Effective Communication and Marketing Tactics to drive patient portal adoption

  1. The New Patient. Include a portal brochure, letter or other information in your registration/ welcome packet, talking about the benefits and features of the portal.
  2. The new and returning patient. Include a portal ID card for the patient to include user name and password, and instruct them to keep it in their wallet or a safe place.
  3. During the visit. Include signage in your office, in the exam room or at the counter. Posters, table tents, anything that talks about your new portal and how/why patients should care.
  4. Give them a brochure, flyer, or postcard with portal features, benefits and log-in instructions. 
  5. Post appointment. Do you use a messaging system (like POS Messaging™)? Use messaging to direct the patient to the portal for lab results, prescription information, treatment instructions, etc.
  6. The patient statement. You send a bill, why not send a statement insert with your portal and login information?
  7. Keep in touch throughout the year. Have a newsletter? Include an article. Doing a patient mailing? Promote the portal. Sending appointment reminders? Promote the portal.

Think outside the box. One practice printed out notepads for physicians to write their patients a “prescription” for portal enrollment. Another practice had staff and physicians practice an elevator speech, 30 sec. or less, to tell how the portal would benefit the patient. Some have done patient portal adoption contests.

The bottom line – communicate early, often and in a variety of ways. You invested a lot of money in the portal. If used properly, it can be a powerful tool for patients and providers.

As a leader in patient communication, POS has worked with thousands of practices to create print and digital communications and solutions to improve patient communication.