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Factors that Make a Patient Portal Successful


Some healthcare systems are having an easier time securing patient engagement than others. Here are some of the successful strategies used at Kaiser.

Medical practices across the country are searching for that special ingredient that will get patients to sign up for - and keep coming back to - their portal. Unfortunately, it's proven to be very hard to find.

Still, some healthcare systems are finding it much easier to secure patient engagement than others.

Take Kaiser Permanente, for example. Currently 4.5 million of its members are using its portal, more than 90 percent are satisfied or very satisfied with the portal, and 98 percent would come back to the portal.

That's according to Judy Derman, director of member engagement in the digital services group at Kaiser Permanente, who presented at the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference in Chicago.

During her session entitled "Provider Perspectives on Patient Adoption of Portals, Secure Messaging," which she copresented with Susan Hull, CEO of Wellspring Consulting, and family physician David Willis, CMIO of CommunityHealth IT and medical director for the Heart of Florida FQHC, Derman shared some of the strategies Kaiser uses that may help your practice get patients engaged.

Marketing the portal
Kaiser's marketing strategy included promoting the portal through a variety of methods at a variety of touch points, said Derman. Just as everyone learns through different methods, there's no one-size-fits-all approach that works when marketing to a wide variety of people, she said.

"I think the key ... is the integration into every single contact, every newsletter, every article, every time you turn around," she said. "You just need to use every avenue."

Getting patients engaged
While great marketing might get patients to sign up for the portal initially, the tricky part for practices often arises when attempting to get patients to continue using it.

One way to get patients coming back is to offer the features that they respond to most favorably, such as online bill pay and secure messaging.

You also might want to consider providing patients with online access to test results as often as possible. In fact, this is one of Kaiser's most popular portal features, said Derman. While there are, of course, situations in which tests can't be released online, most can be and should be, she said.

Another popular portal feature among Kaiser's patients is the ability to share digital images via the portal, said Derman. While many physicians initially feared that patients might use the feature inappropriately, they were pleasantly surprised, she said. "Every single time ... they do use it appropriately."

Making it personal
If you feel like you've exhausted all your options in attempting to get patients to use your portal, you might want to try to shift your perspective.

During the presentation, Hull, who is also a nurse and co-leader of the ANI Consumer eHealth efforts and serves on the ONC's Content Standards Workgroup, stressed that while patients are slow to engage with the portal, providers and other clinicians' may also be slow to engage with the portal when they are healthcare consumers. In fact, only about 30 percent to 40 percent of nurses are actually using their own patient portals and personal health records, said Hull. 

To truly see the benefits, limitations, and barriers to portal adoption, providers may need to begin engaging with portals more when they, and their families, are patients, she said.

"I think patient adoption of portals and provider adoption of portals and our collective experience will drive one another ...," said Hull.


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