Physicians struggle to improve success of patient portals

In many cases the patient portals set up by physician practices to meet Meaningful Use requirements to improve patient care have not lived up to their initial promise, according to an article in Medical Economics.

Practices have struggled with getting patients to engage with the online resources, causing some physicians to wonder if the portals are a waste of time. Most patients use the portal for administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments, refilling prescriptions and checking office hours, according to the article.

"I have given up on the portal and qualifying for Meaningful Use," Timothy Leigh Rodgers, M.D., a solo internist in Santa Barbara, California, who has only one patient who uses the portal regularly, told Medical Economics.

Like Rodgers, physician practices with a large number of older patients have struggled to get them to use the portal. And people who do use them have been turned off by unresponsive staff and confusing portal interfaces.

But, according to the post, there are actions that physician practices can take to improve the experience:

  • Be responsive and be sure staff and physicians return messages from patients in a timely manner
  • Consider making the patient record, including physician notes, available via the portal
  • Know what you want to accomplish with your patient portal, including a strategy, goals and objectives
  • Get physicians and staff on board and promote the use of the portal and train employees on how to help patients access the portal

There also is a silver lining: The next generation of portal software could be more customizable, the article says. That will allow the portal to work better for both patients and providers. In addition, an evolution in reimbursement codes for treating patients electronically may also mean physicians get paid for the time spent communicating with patients via the portal.

The benefits of a patient portal can be numerous, offering the opportunity for improved patient satisfaction, education, engagement and fewer unnecessary phone calls to the practice, as FiercePracticeManagement previously reported. One word of caution, though: Physicians who use email to communicate with patients must ensure they use a secure channel and protect the privacy of protected health information.

To learn more:
- read the article