Fostering Patient Engagement with Portals


Patient portals have grown to become all-inclusive health hubs recognized and valued throughout the healthcare community. A survey by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) reports that, in 2018, an overwhelming 90% of the US providers launched patient portals to support patient centricity and allow users to manage their health proactively.

The patient portal use rate steadily staggers at around 30% (see MGMA survey above). Most users are sporadic—they pop in to check lab test results or schedule a consultation and hardly ever return. So why do they hesitate to fully onboard the patient portal?

Patients may fail to onboard because of lack of awareness and technological training, a roadblock companies can easily remove. Below are six engagement tips companies might consider to improve patient use of portals.

Tip #1: Engage your staff

To onboard patients, companies need to educate their medical staff about the portal, its key functions, and use cases. Remind them to tell patients about the portal and how it can help them in their journey. Patients value professional opinion, and a clinician’s endorsement of the tool may help activate patient engagement.

Tip #2: Win patients across generations

Here’s another curious fact. Statista reported that in 2019 patients chose providers relying on their health technology offering. What’s worth noting is that the importance of access to labs, EHR, and prescription refills remained stable throughout generations—around 40%. So, by creating smooth and secure communication channels to cover these needs, companies can stimulate portal adoption and foster engagement across a fairly large cumulative audience simultaneously.

Companies may wish to consider the actual technological preferences of different age groups in order to offer them healthcare software that they actually want. For example, a good starting point is to consider in-portal messaging or emails, which are more popular with the older generation, while the Millennials value mobile solutions most of all.

Tip #3: Know your patients

Portals are not a magic pill that automatically motivates patients to cooperate on their health management. On the contrary, patients often drop out of using portals because of their inability to find the needed information, as well as the tangled portal structure. Besides, a company‘s target users may have slightly different ideas about how such solutions should look and function.

So, how to engage them in this case? Promote the portal as a cooperative effort, not as a noble deed for the sake of patients. To show that it’s the patient who calls the shots, companies may put forward the idea that the work is ongoing and patients may speak up about the features they’d like to see. In case a new functionality is added, patients can be invited to take part in usability testing of the added element. This cooperative approach to portal enhancement may also pave the way for building up partnerships with patients.

Tip # 4: Zero in on patients with chronic conditions

Cooperating with patients towards the common goal—improving health outcomes and the quality of life continuously—is the key feature of a successful healthcare strategy. There is a group of patients that actually lives by this strategy—those suffering from chronic conditions.

This group of patients has better health literacy levels, so onboarding them first is potentially more beneficial and less effort-intensive. According to research published in Medical Care in 2019, chronic condition patients are positive about using portals, their features, and the information they provide. Besides, 31% of the research participants reported health improvements, connecting them directly with the use of portals.

With this in mind, companies may encourage these patients to share their ideas with non-users. Patients’ personal stories and feedback may work better than the provider’s recommendations. Obviously, patient-to-patient chats in the waiting lounge won’t be enough. It is useful to set up some portal promotion meetings on premises or in your secure digital environment.

Tip #5: Enlighten your patients

The main benefit of patient portals is their ability to empower patients in becoming full-scale participants in managing their health. However, this desired payoff is not easy to reach automatically as patients differ in their level of health literacy, treatment adherence practices, etc. Therefore, to get a partner capable of making informed decisions about their health, companies need to educate them, which requires substantial time investments.

As a rule, patient education boils down to providing personalized information from reputable sources concerning the patient’s disease or condition. Bear in mind that this information may need to be adapted to the patient’s health literacy level and educational sessions may need to be introduced at the right time in the care continuum.

Tip #6: Run twice as fast

So, patients have started to onboard, and even started visiting the portal regularly. That’s a win, but don’t get too comfortable. Quite the opposite, now companies have to work even harder.

To keep a portal attractive to patients, it needs to be continuously improved, its existing functions upgraded and new features introduced. For example, reach to discharged patients maybe extended with sections containing nutrition and fitness tips.

The main point is to promote the idea that care doesn’t stop with the patient leaving the facility. The best part of using patient portals is about providing expert support and assistance to foster knowledgeable decision-making aimed at improving health outcomes and the quality of life without extensive costs for both parties.

Liza Dzhezhora is a healthcare IT Analyst at Itransition, a custom software development company headquartered in Denver, CO.

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