Patient engagement — involving your patients in their healthcare through education, information, and shared decision making — has a lot of potential for improving your outcome indicators and reducing costs. As a healthcare provider, you have a number of opportunities to achieve these positive results with your patients before, during, and after the appointment. Utilizing patient engagement technology, like chronic care management platforms and patient portal adoption, are the most common tools to help providers optimize patient engagement. With these technologies, healthcare providers have the tools to achieve the following goals: educate patients, manage prescription medications, communicate between office visits, and engage in shared decision making.
Educate your patients.
Engaged patients need to understand their medical conditions before they can take charge of their health. For instance, a patient with diabetes can make better, more informed decisions about her diet if she understands how blood sugar works. This generates better compliance than giving a patient a list of favorite foods she can’t eat with no explanation. Providing well-designed print and web patient handouts, written in plain language, and making sure that they reach patients — as well as involving nurses in education efforts — can make all the difference in whether patients stick to their treatment plans. Patient portal adoption, that includes education and careplans in the portal, facilitates successful adherence to medical plan.
Take charge of medication management.
When patients forget to take medications, or when prescriptions aren’t adjusted as needed, you get high readmissions, adverse events, and costs. Technology, like chronic care management software, provides a range of possibilities in medication management: You can create text or mobile app reminders to fill prescriptions and take meds, engage patients in tracking side effects and changes in how they feel, and use a the platform to check in with patients about their medications between appointments. These tools allow you to increase compliance with regimens that are working well and act quickly to modify the ones that aren’t.
Communicate between appointments.
The majority of a patient’s time is spent outside of your office, but what happens during that time has a huge impact on outcomes. That’s why it’s especially important that patient engagement continues between appointments. Secure messaging through patient portal adoption is one of the best ways to send patient education emails and provides opportunities for patients to contact you with questions.
Engage patients in decisions.
Patient engagement in treatment decisions doesn’t mean that doctors are giving up their roles. Instead, healthcare providers should be guiding a collaborative process where they support patients in understanding and committing to treatment plans. The result? Treatment compliance, improved outcomes, and lower costs. A year-long randomized study conducted by Health Dialog found that patients who had enhanced support in making decisions about their healthcare had 12.5 percent fewer hospital admissions and and 5.3 percent lower medical costs than the control group.
Reduce liability risk through patient engagement.
A number of studies have shown that communication problems between doctors and patients are at the root of many lawsuits against healthcare providers. At the diagnostic stage, engaging a patient in effective, open communication to fully understand the issue increases a doctor’s ability to come to the correct conclusion. At the treatment stage, a patient that understands his condition and takes an active role in his care is more likely to comply with a treatment plan — and that means there’s less likelihood of adverse events and consequently, a lower risk of becoming involved in a costly lawsuit.
The good news is that successfully launching new patient engagement technology can be easy. It involves a patient engagement strategy that includes the right software, support from providers and staff, and an experienced implementation team. Here are three implementation tips to help you get started:
1. Communicate early on with staff about plans to implement a new technology.
Early communication with providers and staff about the decision to implement a patient portal or patient engagement mobile app will lead to a higher buy-in rate. It is important to provide as much information as possible about the technology and to be proactive in answering questions such as:
How will you integrate the technology with existing workflow?
What benefits will the technology provide on a day-to-day basis?
Will the technology create more work or alleviate tasks for the team?
The more confident your staff feels about the implementation of a new patient engagement technology, the more likely they are to accept it and to recommend it to patients.
2. Assign roles and responsibilities for overseeing specific aspects of the technology.
Implementing patient engagement technology will simplify many administrative tasks, but it is going to require making a few changes in order to handle some of the new responsibilities that stem from the software. For example, you will need to decide whether one person will be responsible for responding to medication refill requests or whether this task will be split among several users. The same goes for appointment requests and patient messages. Assigning these roles early on and providing ample training will help eliminate confusion.
3. Start a campaign to encourage patient adoption of the new technology.
Whether you want patients to use the technology to attest for MACRA or simply to help improve treatment outcomes, the first way to increase patient portal adoption is to raise awareness. A general campaign targeting your entire patient base is only a good idea if you have the staff resources, as you may get a lot of questions initially while patients learn to navigate the new system.
Another option is to start by promoting the portal or mobile app to a specific set of patients only – for example, those with a chronic disease. You can assign a care coordinator to help these patients find their way around the new technology, including the features that will benefit them and their condition most. You can also send emails to patients who opt-in, highlighting important features. By following these guidelines, you can be assured successful implementation of new patient engagement technology.
Is your practice doing all it can to increase patient engagement? Contact us to find out how a patient portal or patient engagement mobile app can help.
Patient engagement is a buzzword that has taken the healthcare industry by storm. The problem is that not only does it have various meanings in different contexts, but it is often a catch-all term for anything even remotely related to the patient experience.(more…)
The patient portal market has grown significantly, but it is still in its infancy stage and is evolving every day. As the market continues to mature, there is a growing debate as to whether patient portal adoption will be driven more by patient or provider demand. Let’s take a look at what is driving the demand for each, as well as where the market might be headed.
A Brief History of Patient Portals
A major component in the initial demand for patient portals was the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), in particular the HITECH Act within ARRA which set aside approximately $19 billion for health information technology. This funding offset the costs of electronic medical record systems which included patient portals for practicing providers.
Much of the early development and design of patient portals was focused on accommodating provider workflows and the requirements for their practice or hospital. These patient portals were provider-centric as patient records were not electronically “portable” for other providers to see outside of the portal network.
Even still, the needs of these early adopter providers weren’t being met as ambitious Meaningful Use deadlines drove many software companies to rush solutions to market with features and functionality that were limited. Much of the focus was also on producing a quick return on investment and meeting the requirements for Meaningful Use. This left patients with little or no input as to what they wanted or needed in a portal.
Portals Evolving To Become More Patient-Centric
As time has progressed, with feature improvements and enhancements being made within the patient portal market to accommodate users, the paradigm has begun to shift bringing with it the demand for more patient-centric patient portals. More patients today want to take control of and improve their health, as they seek out health-related information. In fact, patients want the ability to not only add and edit information, but to connect it with other software solutions or apps.
Patients also want to be able to schedule appointments with their doctors online and have e-consultations via video conferencing. Even sending a simple secured message or refilling a prescription request is all that many patients are looking for. Software developers have responded to these requirements, allowing for more patient-centric portal functionality.
The Future of Patient Portals
So where is the market headed? The key to the future of patient portals is the interoperability between disparate systems. Being able to interface EMRs or practice management systems with patient portals is critical to the long-term success of either both patient and provider-centric portals. Although HL7 has brought the communication standardization on how many of these systems can “talk” to one another, we are still a ways off from seeing a significant portion of the market that is interoperable.
The good news is that with Stage 2 of Meaningful Use having gone effect, steps towards interoperability have already been taken. Interoperability is necessary, for example, to meet the requirement that any certified EMR vendor must be able to export their patient record as a CCR, CCD or CDA file. This allows for disparate patient portals to be able to upload the file and present it as structured data within the patient health record.
This is a big step in introducing more people to the efficacies of the patient portal and will set the stage for future growth.
Many patient portal vendors employ strategies to help physicians meet Meaningful Use requirements; however, their software does not necessarily present an efficient or effective way for patients to access to their electronic health records. Some patient portals, for example, only support medical billing exchanges and don’t provide clinical information. Others provide a standard patient portal with a good set of features, but don’t allow customization to suit the physician’s needs.
When evaluating a patient portal for your healthcare organization, here are four key issues you should consider:
Patient portal costs may include upfront licensing fees, installation and annual maintenance. Some vendors even charge a fee for each transaction that occurs. For example, a physician would have to pay a transaction fee for each patient reminder, message and released office note. In cases such as these, transaction costs could balloon into a significant portion of a practice’s IT budget as patient portal usage increases. To avoid being surprised by rising costs, practices should try to estimate the upfront and ongoing cost of a patient portal. This will help physicians understand the full scope of their financial commitment.
There are many features that can be offered by a patient portal, but few vendors provide all of them. For example, some patient portals only support secure messaging to fulfill Stage 2 Meaningful Use while others support a complete exchange of specific information on patient care issues. With Bridge Patient Portal, physicians can customize a patient intake form to replicate condition-specific forms for patients to fill out. This History of Present Illness intake form can be linked into the conditions section within the patient portal without input needed by the physician or administrative staff.
Patient portal features can also affect a practice’s implementation strategy and EHR use. For example, a patient portal that is limited to messages is typically implemented after the EHR has already been in use for the majority of active patients. On the other hand, software that allows patients to schedule appointments and input History of Present Illness or other medical information can be an invaluable tool to help introduce patients to the portal and would typically be implemented sooner.
3. Meaningful Use
Patient portals were a convenience under Meaningful Use Stage 1, and are now a necessity under Meaningful Use Stage 2 for Hospitals and Eligible Professionals. Under Stage 1, requirements include a core measure to provide clinical summaries for office visits. There are a number of clinical summary delivery options that include paper summaries, CDs and secure email, as well as patient portal. However, after assessing the costs and logistical issues of providing summaries to patients, patient portals prove to be the most cost effective and patient service-oriented strategy. In addition, a requirement in Stage 2 of Meaningful Use includes patient messaging, which can also be accomplished with a patient portal.
4. EHR Working Strategy
Patient portals can have a number of different EHR working strategies. In some instances, the patient portal may send messages which must be manually interpreted and processed by the medical staff. In other cases, the patient portal generates targeted messages that are connected to the relevant EHR information and features. For example, some patient portals send a message that a patient has requested a refill of a particular prescription, and the physician has to confirm by locating the prescription in the patient’s chart to issue the refill. In other instances, the patient summary can be included with the refill request message which is highlighted on the medications list saving time in verifying the prescription for the physician.
With an ever expanding list of patient service agendas, it is necessary to have a diligent patient portal strategy that includes effective workflows between the patient portal and the EHR. Unfortunately, many practices have not carefully examined their patient portal strategy or their current EHR workflow while considering the implications of an interface between a patient portal and their EHR. Practices and hospitals should understand the specifics of the compatibility of the two software systems and consider the portal features and costs in their evaluation and EHR implementation strategy.
Most discussions these days about patient portals and attaining Meaningful Use Stage 2 criteria are centered around the technical aspects. But while a patient portal provides a gateway for communication and is a great way to engage patients, it doesn’t ensure that patients will sign up or make effective use of it. So how can a medical practice see to it that patients realize the benefits of using the patient portal?
Here are three areas your office can focus on:
Involve the providers: If you want patients to “buy in” to your portal, you must also have the same buy-in with the provider. Change can be difficult for most, but providers must be able to adapt and embrace this new way of diagnosing and treating patients. Providers have to drive the medical responses to questions via the patient portal and do so on a timely basis.
Address the culture change amongst the staff: Much as change is difficult for providers, it is equally if not more difficult for staff member to support “the new way of doing things.” Staff members may see the patient gateway portal as one more thing they have to do on top of their already growing list of demands. They may also be reluctant to believe that patients will even use the EMR patient portal. Bringing a positive attitude will certainly help ensure that your portal is successful. Portal administrators should also help both providers and staff to embrace the mindset that the patient portal is a patient engagement tool. Ultimately, it is providing better service to their patients.
Promote to your existing and potential patients:Achieving Meaningful Use Stage 2 by presenting all the benefits of the portal for the patients to encourage adoption is key. Communicate that the EMR patient portal is a faster way to be able to receive lab results, get medication refills and get answers to questions. Also point out that it can eliminate the phone tag that patients often encounter when calling the office.
Other methods to consider
Place a computer in the waiting room if possible so patients can register right in the office. Staff members can assist if patients have any questions.
Place informational brochures at check-in and check-out stations and waiting rooms.
If you use reminder card, add instructions for the patient to register for the portal.
Use your on-hold time when on the phone for patients to hear announcements on how to register for the portal.
All printed publications such as statements or newsletters (use this to promote benefits) can be tools as a promotion tool for the portal.