As patients are increasingly being asked to become more actively-involved healthcare consumers, it’s more important than ever for ophthalmologists to provide tools that will engage patients and encourage them to manage their own eye care. This is where patient portals come into play.
Fueled by a combination of patient and practice-generated data, patient portals enable meaningful engagement between the physician and their patients by allowing the patient access to his/her personal health information. For ophthalmologists, increasing patient engagement is especially important due to the high level of surgeries and appointments that leave little room for face time. With Meaningful Use, MACRA/MIPS requirements and the push for value-based care, it is likely that patient portals will remain an important tool for ophthalmologists, and the overall healthcare industry, in years to come.
What are the benefits of patient portals?
There are multiple benefits including giving patients access to their healthcare history including test results and prescriptions. By expanding communication avenues, physicians and patients can constantly stay on the same page. This, in turn, puts more power into patients’ hands to make their own health decisions and engage in meaningful conversations with their doctor, fostering a trusting, patient-provider relationship.
Arguably the most important aspect of portals is to improve care quality and health outcomes. With the increase of interoperability and interconnected devices, physicians can monitor treatment regimens conveniently and securely through the portal itself and patients can provide consistent updates on their progress. For example, patients with glaucoma can see the trends in their intraocular pressure and see for themselves how a particular drop lowered their intraocular pressure. This may lead to better compliance rates.
Additionally, the burden on office staff may be relieved. Patients can now schedule visits, pay bills, request prescription refills, check test results and communicate with physicians and staff, all through the convenience of their portal. By helping reduce monotonous, day-to-day tasks at the practice, physicians and their staff can focus on more complicated endeavors or treatment of more patients.
Where does the industry stand with patient portal interest and adoption?
A recent 2017 Patient Engagement Perspectives Study found that 70 percent of patients state they have become more engaged with their healthcare during the past two years — up from 57 percent in 2016. When asked what motivated them to become more involved with their healthcare, patients said access to online patient portals.
While this statistic, along with other findings, helps physicians see the proven benefits to patient portal adoption and patient-generated data, many healthcare professionals still face barriers to implementing the tools across their practices. In most cases, office staff simply do not have the time, nor resources, to dedicate to researching, vetting and adopting a new technology into their workflows. This is especially true in understaffed and overworked practices, in line with the current phenomenon of physician burnout.
How do we promote widespread adoption of patient portals in ophthalmology?
From a physician standpoint, it is essential to first get staff and then patients to appreciate the value of the portal. Educating your staff about the functionality and benefits, then encouraging them to promote the tools will help facilitate adoption by the patients. Patients will be more inclined to use the portal if their healthcare providers believe in it.
One way to accomplish this is by introducing the use of a portal as part of a patient’s office visit, including enrolling them in and educating them about the functionality — similar to a new medication regimen or treatment plan. This face-to-face interaction and feedback allows physicians to understand barriers that patients may have to adopting portals and adapt communications to address those concerns and encourage use. But simply, the portal needs to meet patients’ needs, or else they won’t use it.
Here are a few key features that are essential to patient portal success:
- Mobile/app-based access: Offering a full-functioning mobile or app-based solution can improve patient satisfaction because they can easily navigate and reference information through the convenience of their smartphone or tablet anywhere, at any time. Patients can use their mobile portal to message doctors, schedule appointments, send refill requests, pay bills and reference care summaries — eliminating phone tag and streamlining communications.
- Ease of use: According to a survey by EHR review firm Software Advice, 41 percent of patients think patient portal interfaces are too confusing. Patient portals, as the name suggests, must be patient-centric. Not every patient is “tech savvy,” therefore it’s crucial that user-centered design and user experience are part of the development process. Aside from being mobile-friendly, patients expect an intuitive, streamlined interface and a low barrier for learning and use. Even the slightest inefficiency or hard to find feature could erode the patient’s trust in the portal and spark high abandonment rates.
- Integration with EHR system: Additionally, patients and providers alike will become frustrated if the EHR system in use at the practice lacks synchronicity with the patient portal, so having the portal be a feature of the EHR system is key. Basic patient information should be updated automatically between the EHR system and patient portal to ensure the data they need is available, and that out-of-date or nonaligned information is minimized.
- Proactive follow up and check-ins: To keep patient satisfaction high, patient portals should allow physicians to send appointment notifications, cancellations and even prescription reminders, to help keep the patient on track with their care. In addition, the ability for physicians to send notices for annual visits or postoperative care is key. Not only will the follow up improve the patient experience through shared medical decision-making, but it will also ensure that physicians provide quality care throughout the entire treatment process.
Overall, patient portals are a mission-critical tool needed by not just ophthalmologists, but every specialty in today’s quality-driven healthcare landscape to help improve the health of the population and reduce the costs of care in the country.