Guest Column | January 25, 2017

Beyond Meaningful Use: The Value Of Patient Portals

Meaningful Use

While most caregivers adopt patient portals just because MU requires it, portals can bring value across clinical and financial dimensions.

By John Barnett, Project Coordinator at Iflexion

For many providers, Meaningful Use was the trigger to adopt patient portals, the main function of which is to give patients timely access to their health information. However, there is more to that. Patients can view therapeutic education materials, safely communicate with their physicians, and view an overview of their achievements and future goals to reach.

Still, many caregivers who implement patient portals in line with their medical web portal development process approach them only as a check-the-box measure, which has to be set up in place for CMS reporting. Instead, they need to see and harness the other benefits portals provide.

Portals can yield actual value for providers by boosting clinical and financial outcomes. They have the potential to drive patient engagement, patient satisfaction, loyalty, retention, and health outcomes. This is how it can be done.

Improving Care
A patient portal is bound to an EHR which provides patients and caregivers access to the most up-to-date patient information in real time. This includes recent health status changes, treatment plans, and current medication lists. Such resources are not limited to a specific setting making patient portals especially valuable for patients receiving treatment from multiple organizations, such as patients with chronic diseases.

This synchronization with EHRs allows patients using portals to improve accuracy and completeness of forms and additional required information. Portals allow patients to approve information needed for their care online such as demographics, allergies, insurance, and medical history with the changes seamlessly updated in their EHR. Moreover, instead of wasting time in the waiting room filling out forms by hand, patients can easily complete them before a visit from the comfort of their homes.

Balancing Costs
Patients already expect to be able to manage their health and care online. This influences adoption of patient portals among patients reducing the amount of time and budget spent on calls for scheduling, re-scheduling, getting lab results, checking prescription refills, or getting details on treatment plan.

Moreover, a portal can react to patients’ input and provide them with needed information and services, such as interactive education, without requiring any guidance from a caregiver’s staff.

Uplifting Communication And Service
Patients are more willing to ask difficult questions and discuss embarrassing topics via a portal as it allows for private and direct interaction with a physician. Patients can feel comfortable and protected using this secure communicative option and refrain from discussing a sensitive problem if they first have to go through a nurse. If patients do not feel embarrassed or uncomfortable asking direct questions, caregivers are able to improve health outcomes by getting better insights into patients’ treatment progress and concerns.

Handling Workflows
Since providers deal with sensitive information and human supervision is essential for the sake of preventing medical errors and safeguarding PHI security, automation is needed to replace inefficient and time-consuming tasks. For example, portals can take over such manual processes as medical record sharing, staff locating, and report creation, as well as faxing those reports to other caregivers.

Patient portals put patients at the center of their care, giving them more ownership of their health records, test results, medications, medical images, and vitals. Since relevant, up-to-date information is critical for continuing care in cases of chronic diseases, mental disorders or complex conditions, patients need the possibility to share their data with other care teams seamlessly. Here, both providers and patients benefit from streamlined processes that drive coordinated care; reduce duplication of information, tests and procedures; and free administrative staff’s time for other duties.

Adopting Patient Portals Beyond MU Demand
Patient portals are not just another brick in the wall. They are a set of tools that strengthen relationships between physicians and patients, increase loyalty, build trust, and, most importantly, influence patient engagement with their health and care. From a provider’s side, automated workflows, better control over financials, and improved care delivery allow for overall better performance and outcomes.

To harness the benefits we reviewed above, there are three major rules to stick to:

1. Stay Connected To Patients
There are plenty of myths about patient portals, one of which states elderly patients will not use patient portals. However, we need to remember Medicare beneficiaries are all elderly and some of them have multiple chronic diseases, creating the need for distant and secure communication with physicians. Therefore, providers need to remember who their patients are and make portals patient-oriented and intuitive. Multiple communication channels — including secure two-way messaging, emails, video chats, and virtual visits — give care consumers a variety of options to use when they need to interact with a physician.

2. Guide Patients Into Portals
The principle of build it and they will come fails in the case of patient portals. Adoption begins by informing patients they are able to manage their health records online whenever they want. Caregivers should make sure nurses, physicians, and other frontline health specialists educate patients about using portals. This can be a part of the first appointment, just a quick tour to the new tool and explanation of basic functionality. While it will take some time, further value is incomparable with initial investments of efforts. It is also important to frequently remind patients about their new communication options and positively reinforce their actions with timely feedback.

3. Make Portals Work Both Ways
To boost adherence to treatment plans, self-management, and health literacy, patients need to receive feedback from their providers. For them, this would mean caregivers actively participate in treatment even beyond appointments. Therefore, we suggest offering patients post-visit care summaries, post-discharge care management instructions, individual nutrition advises, exercise programs, and other useful information. Moreover, providers can also reach out to patients via automated and personalized messages to send reminders on appointments, medication, and immunization.