Often, physicians are excited to offer new technology to patients. This might be in the form of a wearable device for chronic condition management, Skype office visits, or even new methods of scheduling and paying for care through use of a patient portal.
It’s important to remember that adjustment to new technology comes easier for some patients that others and to keep in mind the patient population your practice serves and whether new technology is actually meeting the needs of your patients. Additionally, technology can create liability for practices if time is not taken to thoroughly review its impact.
A good example of a fairly popular practice technology is the patient portal. Portals allow patients to update their information, make appointments, schedule payments, order prescription refills, and even receive test results and reminders, such as for the annual flu shot or a mammogram. Patients and physicians can also communicate through the portal, which allows for follow-up and other questions outside the in-office visit.
It’s clear that the patient portal has many advantages for both patients and practices. However, there are still some challenges with it. Many older and financially disadvantaged patients do not use computers, so they may not be able (or know how) to access the portals. Other patients may not regularly use email to be able to receive portal reminders. Another category of patient users are ones like myself — younger and fairly technologically savvy, but overwhelmed by more than 40 user names and password combinations needed to track access to patient portals, encrypted emails, various social media apps, and (the worst) multiple school related applications for my children. I simply cannot remember all the names and passwords! So what’s a practice to do?
Every practice needs to have an alternative approach in place to meet its patients’ needs. There will always be patients who call to make appointments, obtain refills, and make payments. Failure to maintain a backup plan for technology will not only be frustrating to patients but can also pose risk. Take for example a client who recently conducted an audit of its portal system and found over 60 percent of patients had not accessed the portal in over a year! This means that messages were not being reviewed, even important test results. Even worse, when queried, patients stated they had assumed important test results would be communicated by telephone, so they did not feel the need to check the portal. In fact, the practice was relying entirely on the portal to communicate with its patients.
What should your practice do as it introduces new technology to protect itself and its patients? Consider the following:
1. Take a close look at your population. A geriatric or poor patient population is not likely to benefit portal technology. However, it may embrace other types of technology, such as Skype visits or health tracking mechanisms.
2. Make sure there is more than one system of communication with patients. Important information should be conveyed through the portal, but also through a secondary approach. Over time, reliance of patients on technology may increase and systems can be reevaluated.
3. Make sure patients understand the intentions of the portal or other technologies. A patient who relies on portal technology in an emergency, for example, can have a tragic outcome. Be clear in the capabilities of your technology and how quickly messages are addressed. Make sure emergency directions are clearly posted in any communication to your patients.
4. Check with patients regularly on their feelings about the practice’s technology. Invite their opinions on improvements you can make.
There is always a transition period when new technology is introduced to a practice. Make sure your practice is making smart choices in the technology chooses.