Managing Patient Portals

Despite some rocky beginnings, the patient portals seem to be coming of age. No longer simply a patient payment and scheduling system, they are emerging as complex engagement systems designed for patients to interact with their providers and manage their health outcomes. In fact, at an operational level, health systems are using the systems as a tool to improve their patient engagement efforts.

Cleveland Clinic recently took a comprehensive look at how patients engaged with its services, focusing on the impact of the overall patient experience it provided. According to officials there, doing so led to a series of initiatives that helped define what the Clinic wanted for their patients, as well as how to measure the impact of any changes implemented.

The Cleveland Clinic operates the patient portal, MyChart, which is actually a robust personal health record. In determining how the Clinic and its hospitals were to interact with patients, leaders settled on several key factors that led to improvements in the patients’ experience.

Open access scheduling. A major change included making it easier for patients to get in and see their doctors. The most efficient way to accomplish this was by utilizing MyChart. According to Healthcare IT News, now at all of Cleveland Clinic’s family health centers patients can log on through the patient portal, view their provider’s entire schedule and make their own appointments.

Prove opportunities for patient education. Patient satisfaction begins with ongoing engagement to help them understand their healthcare and what is to come according to their treatment plans. Cleveland Clinic also posts patient educational materials to its patient portal, MyChart, as many other clinics throughout the country have done, like HCA, in an attempt to bring more patients closer to their care and to meet meaningful use requirements. The portals provide a plethora of information that runs the gamut from follow-up information following individual visits to continuing care information for chronic conditions.

Open medical records policy. According to Healthcare IT News, Cleveland Clinic has had an open records policy for years, but now everything is getting put online in personal health records and loaded onto the patient portal for patient access. Since 2012, the Clinic has been rolling out increasing access to patient info, from lab results and images to physician notes and other patient health information, as well as to schedule visits.

Patient portal two–way messaging. Patient portals allow for expanded communication options and a variety of information can be shared between the patient and physician using the technology. The technology allows for expanded communication, coaching patients and eliminating unnecessary office visits.

With all of the benefits, the process of choosing and implementing a portal doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Meaningful use is only one of the reasons for the push to patient portals, as the benefits above are other strong reasons health systems are launching the technology. Now’s the time to make the move and success can come quickly, according to Cleveland Clinic.

When choosing the technology, Physicians Practice recommends making a list of requirements, expectations and objectives. Knowing what features of the solution you’ll likely use and promote makes the selection process easier and will allow leaders to anticipate patient need, which will help the technology win them over. Therefore, thinking like a patient is key to the selection process.

Next, hospitals should consider putting together a patient portal task force to lead the implementation. According to EHR vendor NueMD, “Any parties who will be affected by the change should have a voice in the process. This includes nurses, administrative staff and physicians.”

When considering an implementation, be aware of some potential obstacles: One is that physicians may be skeptical about the benefits of the technology. “If a practice is only introducing online portals to meet meaningful use requirements, it won’t be as successful as if the office is supportive of the change,” NueMD reports.

Educating staff about the benefits of patient portals also is a necessary part of implementation. Next, provide access to patients and educate them how to use the system, too, and give access credentials and follow up with patients as appropriate to ensure they’re using the systems.

Additionally, NueMD says to promote the portal from the beginning early and often – “Administrative staff, nurses and physicians should all talk to patients about the benefits of the portal. It’s also a good idea to send reminder letters or emails and post updates in the office.”
Portals help streamline administrative and patient interactive functions; providers can then focus on more important projects, patients care outcomes; and be more attentive to referrals, prior authorizations and appointments.

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