Patient portals are great. Patients log in to email their doctors, access their records, and find their next appointments. Some portals supply general health information and reminders about basic annual check-ups and similar preventative processes. But is the patient portal enough to qualify as a patient-centered practice fostering patient engagement?
Patient engagement is partnership.
The non-profit Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Analytics defines patient engagement as follows: “An organization’s strategy to get patients involved in actively and knowledgeably managing their own health and wellness and that of family members and others for whom they have responsibility. This includes reviewing and managing care records, learning about conditions, adopting healthy behaviors, making informed healthcare purchases, and interacting with care providers as a partner.” In other words, engagement means patients partnering with their providers in managing their own health and wellness.
In order to measure United States healthcare organizational commitment to patient engagement, HIMSS Analytics conducted a comprehensive study of a variety of healthcare facilities from hospitals to academic medical centers (and everything in between) and found the majority of providers lacked the direction, leadership, or spending to truly qualify as committed to patient engagement. While nearly all had patient portals, most providers admitted they were not enough to facilitate a patient-physician partnership.
The basic patient portal is not enough.
Typically, providers rely on patient portals packaged with their EHR products from their healthcare IT vendors. While fulfilling the basic conveniences for patients, these basic portals are limited and therefore do little to engage patients in their care. In fact, many don’t allow for two-way communication between patient and doctor. They’re more like unilateral websites.
“Next-generation” platforms, however, may prove more effective at motivating patients to actively participate in their own care. Portals that provide more patient-physician relationship support services that physicians actively promote to their patients may enhance patient self-care.
Next-Generation portals power patient engagement.
For example, portals that allow quick coordination of patient calls to complete patient files cut down unnecessary relay steps from patient to physician and back again--the patient calls in with a question that the medical assistant relays to the physician who then relays a reply to the assistant to relay back to the patient. Efficiency allows for quicker decision-making and, as a result, better care and patient satisfaction. And physicians take better care of their patients when they know what’s going on with them between visits, say with symptoms that don’t clear up after a course of treatment.
Advanced portals are also equipped with systems that alert physicians to identified patient care gaps in chronically ill patients or at-risk patients that physicians keep healthy via preventative care. So, for a patient with diabetes whose kidney function is monitored by his urologist and whose blood is monitored for the blood thinner prescribed after his heart attack, the lab work and urologist reports appear in one central patient profile.
When portals contain the capacity to maintain and coordinate all pharmacy, lab, and medical records of a patient in one place, the care gap potential diminishes and physicians can intervene before patient conditions worsen. The physician can then be alerted when the patient hasn’t given blood on time or when his creatinine levels fall below normal to prevent a neglected condition winding up in a hospital visit.
Another plus of advanced portals is their functionality allowing patient feedback. Allowing patients to contribute input on their condition supplements the data physicians rely on to diagnose and treat patients, just as if the patient were in the doctor’s office answering questions. Portals that allow the interchange of information from patient to physician improves care and enhances patient engagement.
The future is now.
The multi-faceted platform that maintains comprehensive patient records and facilitates quick, convenient communication between healthcare providers and patients builds robust collaboration between medical staff and their patients. Next-generation portals that allow e-visits, health coaching, and tele-visits would undoubtedly incentivize patients to actively manage their health. There would be no excuse not to.
While the HIMSS Analytics study found populating medical organizations with Next-Generation portals to improve patient engagement tremendously is still far down the road, the technology and will are there. It’s just a matter of time for the right leadership to step in and push what in the end will be the best solution for everyone in a value-based healthcare system.