By now most physician practices and health systems have implemented some version of a patient portal. A 2017 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study showed that nearly 90 percent of providers have a patient portal. Unfortunately, this same report proved that you can not just “build it and they will come”. Although 90 percent of providers now have a patient portal only 30 percent of patients have used the portal.

So, what’s next? It’s evident that patient portals can drastically improve patient engagement and reduce administrative tasks, but your practice won’t see any of these benefits if few of your patients use it. Fortunately, there are some commonalities in the most engaging and highly utilized portals. Follow these tips to help improve your results.

Spread the Word

If Netflix had built the best platform for viewing movies and TV shows but never told anyone about it, then it’s unlikely they would be one of the top competitors in the entertainment market.

Likewise, if you don’t tell your patients about your portal, how to access it and the benefits, then you can’t expect them to use it. Luckily, this one is simple to achieve. There are many tools and solutions available for you to communicate to patients – everything from posters, email templates, videos, on-hold messages, and more. Read this blog to learn other creative ideas to increase awareness of your portal.

Make it Mobile

While some patients are in front of a computer every day, there are still quite a few people who are rarely at a computer or when they are they are worried about accessing their health data from work or a public computer. The good news is nearly all patients keep a mobile phone on them throughout the day. According to the ONC Data, 84 percent of patients said they owned a smartphone or tablet.

Giving patients access to the patient portal via their mobile device or an app can help improve utilization. With the age of consumerism upon us, patients expect the same access and usability in their patient portal as they do with retail, banking, and other applications.

Add More Features

If your patient portal only offers a way to message the provider or a way to communicate visit summaries, this may not be enough. Patients are different in their needs and how they interact with their providers. One common reason patients gave for not accessing the portal was “there’s nothing there” or “it wasn’t useful.”

Imagine succeeding in getting your patients to view the patient portal to then have them abandon it because it wasn’t useful. Providers have to offer the features and benefits that their patients expect.

Some must-have portal features that patients expect to see include:
• Online scheduling
• Online bill pay options
• Access to patient data
• Prescription refill requests
• Lab results
• Ability to update data
• Ability to complete required forms
• Secure online messaging to provider

Keep it Simple

While this tip may seem counterintuitive to the prior tip of adding more features, they actually go hand-in-hand. A patient portal should offer the capabilities desired by patients while being easy to navigate and simple to use.

If you were online shopping but there wasn’t an easy way to search for shoes that were your size within your price range, it’s unlikely you would spend more than a minute or two on that site.

Your patients have the same demands of a patient portal. They expect to easily access the site and find what they are looking for. A clean menu and user-friendly design will go a long way in improving patient engagement. According to MGMA Principal Pamela Ballou-Nelson, RN, MSPH, CMPE, PhD, “many patient portals [I’ve observed] are clunky.”

Make sure that you test your portal with your own patients and ask for feedback. No one will continue to use a portal that is difficult to use.

Engage your Staff

While patient engagement is important to a successful portal so is your staff engagement. Patient portals can have a drastic impact on your staff – from reducing the time spent on the phone to providing clearer paths to communicating with patients.
Make sure that your patient portal vendor properly trains and educates your staff. After all, if your staff doesn’t see the benefits to the portal, you will struggle getting your patients to engage as well. The best patient portals will reduce the time your staff spends on the phone since patients will be able to schedule appointments, check lab results, and message securely – all through the portal.

The best portals will also ensure more clear communication between your staff and patients. Your staff can review various requests, prioritize and research as necessary before getting back to your patients. This avoids the frustrations of being on-hold and receiving unclear messages.

By engaging your staff with the portal, they will be more likely to tell your patients about it and more excited to get them involved. A 50-provider practice in Raleigh, Raleigh Neurology Associates, explains how implementing a patient portal helped lower call volume and made patient emails and communications more manageable. Read more in this case study.