Patient engagement has been one of the hottest topics in healthcare over the past few years, in large part due to the Meaningful Use program pushing providers to give patients more access to and control over their own health records. Some hospitals (which have been listed on HSS.edu) have turned to patient portals in an attempt to increase engagement with patients. But patient portals are relatively new in the healthcare landscape and hospitals executives are still on the fence about whether or not to invest in one.
This blog post will answer three important questions:
- Do patients want and use portals?
- Are patient portals used by hospitals?
- Are they worth the effort for hospitals to implement?
Let’s start by looking at portals from the perspective of patients – do patients want portals? Do the ones that have access to portals actually use them? The answer to both of these questions is overwhelmingly “yes”. Consider the following:
- 80% of Americans who have access to their ePHI use it. Over 60% who do not have access say they want it.
- 41% of U.S. consumers would switch doctors to gain access to their ePHI.
- The elderly are also using technology. Over 75% of Medicare patients access the internet at least once a day and of the 83% of U.S. seniors who think they should have full access to their ePHI, only 28% actually do.
The second question can easily be answered by looking around the healthcare industry and digging up some statistics on patient portal adoption rates. To that extent, a recent survey by the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst showed that 88% of healthcare leaders currently use or have plans to implement a patient portal for their organization.
But why do hospitals invest in patient portals? How are their business and operations benefiting from the use of patient portals? There are a slew of advantages of using patient portals and we’ve neatly summarized the 5 key benefits that patient portals provide for hospitals:
Help Providers Meet Meaningful Use Requirements
One of the immediate benefits from implementing a patient portal is that it can assist providers with meeting Meaningful Use requirements. For example the Meaningful Use Stage 3 requirements state that 80% of patients must be able to access their records either through the view/download/transmit function or through an ONC-certified API. A full 35% of patients must receive a clinically-relevant secure message. One of the more difficult measures to achieve will be the fact that providers must incorporate information from patients or “non-clinical settings” (i.e. patient-generated data from a wearable or mobile app) for 15% of patients. All of these measures can be accomplished with the use of a patient portal.
Reduce Administrative Expenses and Optimize Hospital Workflows
Providers are able to optimize their workflow by digitizing tasks such as scheduling appointments and filling out paperwork, thereby reducing reducing the administrative work required by staff. Moreover, depending on the size of your hospital, your organization could save thousands each month in paper-based fees. Dramatically reducing paperwork also eliminates the need for a full time records clerk. But the savings don’t stop there. Patients who skip their appointments (commonly referred to as “no-shows”) cost hospitals a substantial amount of money every year. A comprehensive 5 year study across 64 dental practices by Sesame Communications found that automated appointment reminders reduced no-shows by 23%.
Increase in Patient Loyalty
An intuitive and well designed patient portal can lead to an increased in patient retention rates. According to an athenaResearch study, 80% of patients who signed up for the portal returned to the practice within 18 months. In contrast, only 67% of portal non-adopters returned to the clinic. Why? Most patient portals allow patients to sent direct messages to their doctor, creating a stronger relationship between the two parties. How does increasing retention rates relate to your hospital’s bottom line? Increasing customer retention rates by 5% increases profits by 25% to 95%.
More Efficient and Cost Effective Bill Collection from Patients
Giving patients the ability to pay medical bills through an online patient portal can improve a hospital’s revenue cycle management. A survey by TechnologyAdvice (TA) showed that 61% of patients consider digital services, including the ability to pay bills online, to be “important” or “somewhat important”. Moreover, over 25% said that bill pay was the top digital service they wanted to see offered by their physician.
So what is the advantage of allowing patients to pay bills online through a portal? Research data from athenahealth and Athena Research show that practices that allow patients to pay for their medical bills through an online portal receive payments faster, on a more frequent basis, and in fuller amounts. There is an added bonus of letting your patients pay bills online: increased patient satisfaction. In today’s digital world, people prefer to quickly pay their bills online, from the convenience of their own home, instead of mailing a cheque.
Better Outcomes for Patients
Patient portals can enable hospitals and their clinicians to deliver higher quality of care. An important capability that any well-designed patient portal will include is the ability for patients to upload user-generated data from their wearables, health apps, and mobile medical devices. From the perspective of hospitals, having access to patient data in real-time is a powerful tool for clinicians who can use the most up-to date information to provide a more accurate diagnosis. Furthermore, harnessing all of this data for analytics can enable new clinical decision insights.
At this point, two things are crystal clear: patient portals are being used and do provide tangible benefits for hospitals.
But only if they are done right.
If your portal lacks key features (such as the ability to pay medical bills or view lab results), your patients won’t use it. If your portal is frustrating to navigate, your patients won’t use it. If your portal is filled with technical issues, your patients won’t use it. You get the point.
So if your hospital is going to implement a patient portal, do it right. It is imperative that you plan ahead to ensure that your portal provides a great user experience for your hospital’s patients.
The first step is ensuring that your hospital is using a modern integration engine. Why? In order for patients to be able to access health records in the portal or upload blood pressure readings, your portal needs to be able to connect with your EHR system and numerous medical devices, mobile apps and wearables.
One of the biggest issues with many of the patients portal on the market today is that they are not fully integrated with all of the provider’s systems, meaning that some key features are missing from the online portal (i.e. the portal does not connect with the hospital’s billing system so patients cannot pay their bills using the portal). This results in a less than ideal experience for users and lower patient engagement rates. The Iguana integration engine can ensure that your patient portal integrates with all of your hospital systems (EHR, LIS, RIS, PACS, medical devices, mobile apps, wearables, billing systems, and more). This leads to more participation in your online portal, and more administrative tasks being completed online as opposed to requiring staff.
The next step is to think about the functionality and design of your portal, as well as how your hospital plans to roll out the portal to patients. What are the “must have” features that your patient portal should include? How do you promote your portal and entice your patients to actually use with it? What can you do to ensure that your portal is intuitive and easy to use? There are a lot of things to consider when designing a patient portal for your hospital, and it can be a little overwhelming.
Fortunately, we’ve got you covered.
If you want to ensure that your patient portal will be a success, click the button below to download our “5 Tips for Creating a Great Patient Portal Experience” guide. The guide is completely free and examines the following five topics:
- the core features that your portal must have (along with two additional features that will dramatically increase patient engagement rates),
- proven strategies to increase patient adoption of your portal,
- how to make your portal easy to use,
- why your integration engine plays a key role in the success of your portal, and
- what goes into a successful patient portal launch.