How can practices successfully implement patient portals for MU?

While many providers are still trying to adhere to the stage 2 meaningful use standards, the recently proposed stage 3 meaningful use rule has been the main topic of conversation regarding the EHR Incentive Programs. Many experts are urging the industry to focus on the physicians still adjusting their practices to meet the stage 2 requirements. 

Why implement patient portals? 
The health care industry is beginning to use patient portals not only on a nationwide level, but internationally as well. A press release from Frost & Sullivan calls attention to the increasing adoption rates of patient portals across the globe. 

"The ability of patient portals to optimize the operational and financial efficiency of healthcare providers and payers by leveraging time-saving technologies is a key purchasing factor," Frost & Sullivan Healthcare Research Analyst Saravanan Thangaraj said in a company press release. "Further, it can ease some of the tedious and monotonous administrative, as well as data-entry, tasks that consume hospital resources. Patient portals also eliminate the need for additional staff and postage by enabling patients to perform functions online."

To ensure that patient outcomes and quality of care are constantly improving, patients have to be more aware and in control of their own well-being. This is why patient engagement is such a large part of the stage 2 meaningful use requirements under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, encouraging eligible providers and hospitals to focus more on involving their patients in their own health. 

The first concern that these practices must take into consideration is patient engagement strategies and the proper implementation of patient portals. Portals are known as one of the most effective methods to make patients more aware of their current health and improve patient-to-physician interactions. Making the transition to technology during treatments and clinical examinations will also enhance decision-making processes and self-care support.

One of the main objectives highlighted in stage 2 MU is increasing patient-centered care that enables patients to view and download documents and data that include their health information electronically at home through online portals. Providers are also expected to use portals to alert patients to approaching appointments and send preventative care correspondence.

ONC offers fact sheet for portal implementation
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology has provided a fact sheet to aid providers in the implementation of patient portals. This will assist them in meeting the standards that require them to ensure that at least 5 percent of their patients are accessing their health information with portals and that they are relying on secure messaging tools to communicate with their doctors.

To make the patient portal engaging, providers have to ensure that it is user-friendly – if patients experience difficulty navigating the portal the first time, chances are they will not rely on it again. This is particularly true for older patients who are not as familiar with heath technology, especially as a tool for obtaining their personal health data. The ONC advised training these patients to use the portal.

Implementing proactive and engaging features within the portal and making efforts to promote it to patients will increase the number of users. Decision tools and secure messaging capabilities will also make the portal more enticing to patients. Providers will see a variety of benefits if a good number of patients use the portal, including effective self-care initiatives from users, higher patient satisfaction and efficient communication channels. 

Portals that feature interactive tools developed specifically for the needs of patients are most effective. This means that the system should do more than simply enhance the scheduling of appointments and display health results from examinations and lab tests. 

The ONC noted that providers who need further instructions for successfully implementing patient portals can refer to their regional extension centers for help.