Most provider and payer organizations are making online portals available to patients and enrollees. The challenge is to drive portal usage on a regular basis.

Here are three strategies that you can pursue to dramatically increase the use of online portals by patients and enrollees, and improve customer relationships.

Why You Should Offer Patient Portals

Launching and maintaining online portals and other types of patient engagement applications is not easy and you may still be waiting on a return on your investment. But portals aren't going away, here's why portals can't be dismissed and how to drive their adoption.

Regulatory compliance

The “meaningful use” criteria of the HITECH Act require providers to offer online portals to patients in order to qualify for health IT subsidies. The Stage 2 meaningful use criteria, which took effect in 2012, require at least 5 percent of hospital's discharged patients to use online portals to “view, download or transmit” information about their hospital stay. That may jump to 25 percent by 2018 under the proposed Stage 3 meaningful use criteria.

Strategies to Make Patient Portals WorkImproved quality of care

The more a patient is engaged with his or her care, the more information is being shared between the patient and his or her team of caregivers. The health system and the patient care team will have more information at their fingertips at the point of service to ensure that the patient is getting the right care in the right setting at the right time.

Shift to value-based reimbursement

Value-based reimbursement models pay providers based on the provider and their patients meeting certain cost and outcome targets. After providers take on that risk, they must engage patients in that process to increase the providers' probability of success under the contract. When you have a healthy patient, you want to keep them healthy. When you have a patient with a chronic medical illness, you want to make sure they're following their care plan to keep them away from the doctor and out of the emergency room.

Consumer expectations

As consumers, patients have online access to their own information when they interact with other brands whether it's banks, retail stores or ticket brokers. Patients are starting to expect access to the same multiple digital channel options when it comes to dealing with their health care providers.

Portal Overload

Meeting consumer expectations about digital experiences may be a motivating factor for providers and payers to open online portals. But, it's also the primary reason for the low utilization of portals by patients and enrollees.

Consider the number of providers and payers a patient may come in contact with during just one episode of inpatient care—the primary care doctor, the independent lab, the medical specialist, the diagnostic imaging facility, the radiologist, the hospital, the retail pharmacy, the post-acute care provider, the health insurance carrier and the employer workplace wellness program.

Each stop along the continuum of care has a portal, and each portal houses some but not all patient data. Each has a log in, sign in, username, password or security question to remember. Some know me by my full first name. Some know me by my nickname. Some know me with my middle initial.

What consumer is going to self-manage their patient data and aggregate all that data across those multiple systems on their own and in a way that's going to change their behavior? Nobody. Unless you can get all that information in one place for the consumer to access and use and for the patient care team to use, the widespread adoption of portals by patients isn't going to happen.

[See blog post by McKesson Chairman and CEO John Hammergren in which he proposes that access to a single view of a complete health record creates engaged patients and informed caregivers.]

Three Strategies to Make Portals Work
  1. Interoperability—The ability to acquire patient data from multiple sources, aggregate the data in one place, normalize the data and make the information available to providers, payers and patients in a single view.
  2. Integration—Portals and other patient engagement applications must be integrated into a patient's workflow. They can't be something extraneous that patients or enrollees voluntarily can do on top of what they've done already. They have to be part of the process for scheduling appointments, getting test results, filling prescriptions, answering questions and the like.
  3. Convenience—portals and other patient engagement applications must be user-friendly. They must be easy to access (e.g. mobile) and understand in terms of the language used. Entering data and information must be simple and intuitive. The method of exchanging information must be personalized and convenient to match the preferences of individual patients or enrollees. Portal development must be design-oriented and involve customers at the earliest stage. Too much development has been technology-oriented and involved only providers or payers.

If you follow these three strategies you should enjoy a dramatic increase in the number of patients and enrollees using your portals and other patient engagement applications. When they do, those customers will give you data you need to meet regulatory requirements, improve the quality of care and service and be positioned to succeed in a value-based payment world.

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About the author

Doug Biehn is vice president of Connected Care & Patient Engagement at RelayHealth, a McKesson business. He is responsible for digital health, product strategy, development and go-to-market activities across the customer experience.