09 Sep Patient portals more useful than many realize
If only they were more widely used
Kaiser Permanente engages 45 percent of its more than 9 million members through online portals, which provide secure physician-patient email and access to KP HealthConnect, a comprehensive electronic health record to empower patients to manage care.
“Kaiser, given their capitated model, has a direct, financially-driven incentive to ensure patients remain active members within their health maintenance network,” says Julie Yoo, chief product officer at Kyruus, a Boston-based developer of patient access tools. “Patient portals are likely highly used by Kaiser physicians to this end.”
She adds: “Kaiser also has been known to invest heavily in marketing campaigns to raise awareness and drive adoption of patient portals among members.”
But Kaiser stands in contrast to a 2014 EHR survey from Xerox indicating that 64 percent of patients don’t use portals and 35 percent don’t know about them. Adding to the confusion, 31 percent said physicians never told them about the online tools.
“Online patient portals – secure websites commonly integrated with EHR systems – provide patients with an easy way to schedule appointments, view test results, pay bills and communicate with doctors,” reports Software Advice, a Gartner company. “Making healthcare information easily accessible is a critical part of keeping patients involved and informed in their care.”
At the most basic level, “portals engage patients in their care,” said Lesley Kadlec, director of health information management practice excellence at AHIMA. “You can send them reminders, get test results quickly, facilitate online conversations, refill medication without a phone call during office hours. The beauty is 24/7 access and portability. Physicians can access it anywhere to get feedback, even away from the office.”
Stage 2 meaningful use currently requires that 5 percent of patients view, download and transmit their health data for providers to qualify for federal financial incentives — although that threshold may soon be lowered to just a single patient, once modifications to Stage 2 are finalized.
While that change could be a boon for physicians struggling to meet MU mandates, many patient engagment advocates have cried foul, arguing that it would undermine something that’s been a relatively potent tool for getting patients more involved with their health data. Kadlec agrees that meaningful uses facilitates online communication by “engaging patients to become part of their own healthcare; they have a tool to feel empowered and ask questions.
“They don’t have to sit in an office to fill out pre-registration forms that doctors hand on a clipboard,” she adds. “They can fill those out in the convenience of their own home. That lets (patients) manage their time better, think about their