If You Build It, Will They Come? Attracting Patients to Your Portal

An actively used patient portal accomplishes much more than fulfilling a Meaningful Use requirement. Patients who take an active role in their health and health information tend to adhere to treatment better and have better outcomes. And, with access to their health information through a portal, patients and their families can take care of some routine requests, like prescription refills, outside of office hours.

Yet, many practices struggled to meet the Stage 1 requirement that 10% of patients access the portal, let alone the 50% required for Stage 2 Meaningful Use.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Christopher Beale, MD, who practices internal medicine with two other providers in St. Johns, MI, says that more than 95% of his patients use his practice portal—and the average age of his patients is 72 years.

When he first meets with a new patient, he gives a “3-minute stump speech” about how the system is an integral part of the way care is delivered at his practice. He explains that the electronic health record (EHR) helps him check drug interactions and medical history, share information with other providers, and make sure insurance will cover the medications he prescribes. He tells patients to stop him if they’re ever concerned that he’s paying more attention to the computer than he is to them. After the visit, his staff helps patients set up a portal account, access the record, and find information they need, such as lab results or a prescription refill request.

Another way to ensure that patients use the portal is for the practice to use it, too, for things like notifying patients of lab results, offering patient education materials, and providing health maintenance reminders. “You have to start integrating the EHR into patient interactions,” says Gregory Reicks, DO, a family physician in a 5-provider practice in Grand Junction, CO.

Pediatric practices have a special opportunity to involve parents, who are naturally eager for information about their children’s health. Chad Jensen, office manager at LaTouche Pediatrics in Anchorage, AK, says parents get copies of their children’s growth charts along with a visit summary via the portal after each visit. The practice also makes immunization records and completed forms available on the portal so parents can just log on and print out a copy for daycare or camp. This feature is not only convenient for the parents, but it also reduces calls to the practice for these routine requests.

Once the patients get to the portal, you can ensure they come back by making the information they need easily accessible—more than 3 clicks and you’ll lose people, says Jensen. Balancing accessibility and security is tricky, but worth the effort.