Meaningful Use Stage Two requires you to have a patient portal, and requires that at least 5% of your patients actually use it.
This may not seem like a lot, but even practices which actively promote their portal to patients are having difficulty increasing engagement.
In order to stack the deck in your favor from the outset, you need to purchase a portal which will help you in growing patient adoption. This means you need a portal which is easy to use, up-to-date, and comprehensive.
We spoke with a ton of current patients who are using patient portals provided by their physicians (or who have used them recently) to drill down and get the specifics of what makes a great patient portal.
Here’s what they said all the best patient portals had in common:
A great patient portal should not only be easy to use, but easy to sign up for. For instance, Esther Conrad, using the UBMD system, said, “It is very convenient. I used my Gmail account to create a logon so I don’t have to remember an additional username and password.”
On the flip side, other patients complained that their provider’s portal didn’t allow for things like automated password recovery, or was limited in when they could login and use it.
Access to the doctor
Patients reserved some of their highest praise (and bitterest condemnation) for the ability of a patient portal to give them direct access to a doctor.
Said Janice Christensen, “It’s nice to be able to communicate without feeling like you’re bothering them…that they can answer at their leisure and still get you the information you need. Also, if there’s a question I’m hesitant to ask or forget to ask during a visit, sometimes email is an easier way to ask.”
Sara Ledterman, Editor of an online style magazine, agreed, “I can send the doctor an email directly and ask questions, bypassing the office, call nurse and other steps. It actually ends up being faster. It has saved me several trips to the Dr. and ER on the weekends.”
Ability to attach/scan things
Several patients expressed frustration that they could not attach or upload images for their doctors to see through the portal. The best portals allowed patients to upload results, MRI scans, and more, for their doctor to view and comment on.
Alerts when you have new messages or lab results
It’s a hassle to deal with a patient portal that doesn’t automate notifications. For instance, Tracy Vega had to use one from her doctor, and “You have to continuously log back in and check manually for any new messages or replies… I think this system needs a lot of work.”
Esther Conrad, at the other end of the spectrum, loves the automated emails she gets from her portal: “Yesterday, I got an email saying my health record was updated. My blood work from Thursday was there. I logged on and got my blood results. (Showed treatment worked. I am cured. Who doesn’t want instant access to that information!).”
Most patients mentioned the convenience of being able to set, cancel, and view appointments through their patient portal.
“I never call anymore,” said Sara Ledterman, since scheduling through the portal is much easier than “pushing eight buttons to just wait on hold to make an appointment.”
Integration with EMR
Almost every patient we spoke to used their provider’s patient portal to check on lab results, blood tests, and other individual healthcare reports. Several of them mentioned that, while this functionality was great and improved care, the delay in uploading these results to the portal (by the doctor or hospital) made timely access to their healthcare information difficult.
When Katie Franklin was in the hospital with her husband, for example, “I had to have the hospital staff print me off the lab work daily” because it took too long for her to view it in the portal.
A patient portal that is integrated with the practice’s electronic medical records software can automatically update a patient’s records at the same time the results are inputted in the EMR.
A big selling point of patient portals for actual patients was convenience. Many of the patients we spoke to cited being able to access their health records from anywhere, at anytime, as a major benefit.
The best patient portals, according to patients, are those with mobile functionality that allow them to, as Cedar Burnett explained, “schedule an appointment from my smart phone while I’m on the bus or refill a prescription at night when I realize I’m running low. I can stop into a glasses store and pull up my prescription, or tap into a record of my last flu shot.”
Being able to manage invoices and bills was also a huge draw brought up by several patients.
According to Sara Ledterman it has eased her financial headaches considerably, “I log in every few weeks and can see the billing etc. and know if I need to email the insurance or billing department to resolve an issue, before I get stuck paying the bill and waiting for a reimbursement.”
Have you or your patients hit on any other key features for a top-quality patient portal? Add them in the comments!