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Portals Key to Patient Engagement

By: Nextech | June 19th, 2014

Blog Feature

Among all the focus on developing new technologies to aid healthcare providers, most clinicians will tell you the same thing: Healthcare still comes down to patient care and the patient experience. And the folks at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) believe that too, as evidenced by a significant update in the Meaningful Use Stage 1 requirements for 2014, which now include a core objective “to provide patients with ability to view online, download, and transmit health information for all providers.” That’s another way of saying providers now need to provide a patient portal in order to meet Stage 1.

Instead of seeing this as yet another burdensome requirement that needs to be met, healthcare organizations should consider it an opportunity to improve communication with their patients. Further, Meaningful Use Stage 2 already has a significant patient engagement element requiring that providers show at least 5 percent of patients are using patient portals to view, download and transmit their health information as well as send secure electronic messages to their provider. While 5 percent may not seem like a lot, those providers who are now pursuing Stage 2 are significantly concerned about reaching those levels of engagement, so having a functional portal required earlier should make it easier to hit the minimum participation rate down the road.

While having a portal brings significant benefits to providers, it is even more important that the portal is integrated with the provider’s existing EMR platform. Early adopters of patient portals have touted the benefits, which include greater patient retention, improved patient outcomes and increases in new patient referrals, among others.

With the consumerization of healthcare, patients increasingly expect to be able to conduct “business” with their doctor or clinic the same way they do with their bank, via a secure connection that allows them to complete an array of transactions at anytime, including transferring their patient record to a specialist for an upcoming referral visit, making appointments and paying bills.

Secure messaging with the care team via a patient portal also helps improve care quality and patient outcomes. That’s because encouraging communication with a doctor, even for routine matters, helps improve overall patient engagement. Whether it is having access to clinical notes to help patients manage a chronic condition like diabetes, or reminding them of upcoming appointments and their prescribed treatment regimen, a patient portal effectively extends the care doctors provide their patients.

Finally, having an easy-to-use online patient portal can help practices attract new patients, according to a survey from Accenture released last September. Some of the findings of the survey showed that only 36 percent of patients in the U.S. had full access to their EMR and 41 percent would consider switching doctors in order to gain that access.

While it is clear that both providers and patients still need to step up to the plate in greater numbers to enhance the use of patient portals, momentum is building on both sides and CMS’s increased emphasis on patient portals will only accelerate their adoption.