With the recent publishing of the final Stage 2 rule for meaningful use, we are likely to be talking about the state of patient portals more than ever. This is because, under Stage 2 requirements, physicians will not only have to offer patients online access to their records, but must also ensure that a percentage of their patients will use it. The bar is not particularly high at first blush – 5 percent of patients – a reduction from the original 10 percent threshold originally proposed. Nevertheless, for a practice with 2,000 patients, that means at least 100 patients will need to access, print, share or download their records.
Patient portals are not new. Practices with an existing EHR “sans portal” will need to add one or even possibly replace their EHR. And there have been well-publicized entrees and exits in this space. Remember Google Health? And as recently profiled in the American Medical News article, Will Meaningful use Spur Growth of Patient Portals?, an October 2011 survey published by Manhattan Research found that 140 million patients reported that they have not accessed their records nor are they interested in doing so.
But what if our behavior was not lead by an arbitrary rule and instead was part of a core vision for technology for one’s practice? What could happen then? And how might patients respond?
Lets first consider how the process could unfold.
- A physician decides to invest not only in electronic documentation but in offering patients a better and more convenient experience based on online scheduling, patient health records and even virtual consults together on a single platform.
- The staff and the doctor are trained on both sides of the platform or what is effectively their new practice operating system.
- The doctor and the staff plan how they will introduce their patients to the portal and are provided with the messaging and the in-office and out-of-office elements to communicate the news.
- Patients are informed that the practice has made a fundamental change offering streamlined communications and the opportunity to participate in their care through a patient-facing secure online platform.
- The benefits are clear, consistently presented and well communicated.
- Doctor and staff endorse the platform as part of their daily interactions with patients
- Patients sign-up. And pay to do so.
- The practice collects their share of the patient subscriptions resulting in a new revenue stream.
It is anything but. This is actually part of how practices that select the Hello Health® platform implement the patient portal functionality.
And the patient response?
Consider a busy family practice in New York City that has more than 1,200 patients as paid subscribers. Or a practice in Atlanta that in a single month converted 30 percent of patients with appointments to paid subscriptions. Or a patient from an Atlanta practice who tells us:
“I can also look up my dates of service to give to other doctors. I can even download the records I need, put them on a thumb drive and bring it to my other doctor – everyone has computers – to enter into their system. It’s more convenient than carrying 101 pieces of paper. I like being able to scan things in and have it downloaded automatically to the site.”
It's a new reality – not easy – but eminently possible when it is vision-led and with the tools and the commitment to execute. Patients are consumers and no mandate or incentive money can substitute for a clear communication of a value proposition. It can be worth paying for and patients are doing just that. Just make it part of the vision for what technology can offer your practice and in so doing, you can make Stage two… step one.
Stephen Armstrong is senior vice president for Hello Health, the revenue generating EHR platform for primary care practices supporting practice vitality through patient engagement.