This year, as you may already know, both hospitals and physician practices participating in Meaningful Use must offer patients a way to access their health records electronically. The patient electronic access objective specifically calls for providing patients the ability to view online, download, and transmit their health information. Those familiar with this objective often call it VDT for short.
Although having a patient portal is a requirement of Meaningful Use, it’s not required to be helpful, relevant, responsive, attractive, or even usable. It’s just got to be “there.”
From a patient’s perspective, there are plenty of reasons to delay logging on, even beyond the well-documented reasons of not having an email address or access to the internet. Many patients have no idea what to look for on the portal and if they don’t understand the benefits of having access to their medical records, why should they care? Frankly, a bad online experience could seriously hurt a practice’s chances of meeting their VDT goals.
So What Works?
Everyone’s trying something. Here are some strategies practices are implementing:
- Offer more amenities on the portal: the ability to see statements, pay bills, schedule visits, or access educational materials specific to the patient’s conditions.
- Instead of listening to smooth jazz while on hold, patients are given instructions on how to access the portal and told about what information they will find there.
- A TV monitor on the wall of the waiting room cycles through testimonials about how convenient it is for patients to schedule, access their records, or email their doctor.
- Signage is in place throughout the facility including hallways, triage rooms, exam rooms, bathrooms, elevators, stairwells.
- Staff members are trained to talk articulately about the portal starting at check-in and at each point along the visit – because face it – if staff don’t buy-in to the benefits of the portal, then patients certainly won’t.
- Offer tablets or other hand-held devices for patients to log in to the portal before they leave the office. Make sure staff are ready to help if patients have questions.
- Do some investigative work – start taking notes about what patients call into the practice about most. Then find out if you can address these issues in the portal. This could automates a task for your staff while simultaneously addressing a need for your patients.
There are lots of challenges to getting patients to engage online, no doubt. But that means there’s a lot of opportunities for creative solutions.