Practical Solutions for Patient Engagement

Ask Joy: This Week – Boost Participation

This week, we’ll cover a frequently asked question among folks in the health IT industry. This topic was covered in a recent Learning Lunch presented by Heather Montgomery of i-Medical Consulting, but everyone seems to want to know…

How can we get patients to use the patient engagement tools? 

It’s true, there is a lot of nervousness among providers to reach the 5% threshold requirement of patients to view, download, or transmit (VDT) their health information for Stage 2 of Meaningful Use. Getting patients to sign on to a patient portal is a challenge in itself, but now providers are held responsible for their patients action’s. There are many ways to step up to this challenge. Here are just a few:

1. Set up the office to boost patient participation.

To do this, it’s imperative that all staff members are on board. It will be the responsibility of the front office staff to positively promote patient engagement. They should have comprehensive training on the patient portal and be well versed in instructing patients on how to log on. Arm them with instructional hand-outs for patients to take home and post signs posted throughout the waiting room to promote the portal. Additionally, if you can offer patients an opportunity to log in to the portal directly from the waiting room, potentially with a secured tablet or kiosk, you will be setting yourself up for success and will likely far surpass the 5% VDT threshold.

2. Embrace automation wherever possible

It’s not uncommon for patients to ask for their doctors to email them directly. They want to work with physicians who can give them their health information when they want it, which is usually as soon as humanly possible. Patients who have experienced receiving an email notification that their lab or imaging results are in before they even get home from their doctor’s appointment are familiar with the excitement of having a doctor who has embraced the digital world. This level of convenience is becoming second nature for patients and they are using these experiences as benchmarks when they choose a provider. The bottom line is to take digital communication with patients seriously — get on board or miss the boat.

3. Incorporate the portal into follow-up visits

During follow-up visits, providers have an opportunity to incorporate the portal into the visit, practically ensuring the portal’s success. Consider obtaining the patient’s lab results directly from the portal and use it as an opportunity to not only educate the patient on his or her condition, but also to showcase how easily the portal can be accessed.

4. Use education, not scare tactics

Though doctors may have been telling patients to live healthier lifestyles for years, education is much more effective than scare tactics. Patients who are well-informed of their medical conditions, risk, and optimal treatments are more likely to comply with provider directions. When they understand the consequences of their life choices, they end up being higher-compliers and learn to be accountable for their health decisions.

5. Hire a dedicated wellness administrator 

If all else fails, consider utilizing additional support staff to increase compliance and help build a robust, profitable practice. Because medical nutrition is often the first medical protocol for many age-related diseases, a licensed clinical nutritionist (costing $17 – 20 per hour) can be put to work to give personalized attention to patients and billed as a health practitioner for weight loss and nutritional counseling. This staff member can be responsible for following up with patients after the doctor has made her recommendations, signing patients up to the patient portal and giving a short tutorial at checkout, or making “how are you feeling today?” calls to patients to check in with them or give them a quick overview of the portal.

Any or all of these actions can improve patient satisfaction, improve marketability, and increase referrals into the practice. Engaging with patients on a personal level, while embracing technology, will certainly help you meet, or even exceed, the 5 percent VDT threshold required for Stage 2 of Meaningful Use. Good luck! Report back and let us know which approach works best for your practice.

About the Author: Joy Rios has worked directly with multiple EHRs to develop training programs for both trainers and practice staff. She has successfully attested to Meaningful Use for multiple ambulatory practices in both Medicare and Medicaid. She also authored the Certified Professional Meaningful Use course for Joy holds an MBA with a focus in sustainability. She is Health IT certified with a specialty in Workflow Redesign, holds HIPAA security certification, and is a great resource for information regarding government incentive programs.Ask Joy is a regular column on 4Medapproved HIT Answers.