Last Updated | April 25, 2022
After the introduction of electronic health records and electronic medical records, the use of patient portals is gaining traction in healthcare. Portals are increasingly becoming popular among organizations and practices of all sizes.
The widespread use of patient portals can potentially increase patients’ access to their health information and empower organizations to provide patient-centered care.
But, what patient portals exactly are, and what makes them so popular?
Portals are digital platforms or secure websites built with features that patients can access anytime. While it may be evident that portals give patients easy access to their health records, they are effective tools and essentially affect patients’ experience with a healthcare facility.
They are developed to involve patients in their own health care and encourage them to actively manage their treatments. They increase engagement and self-management among patients, potentially improving their care outcomes.
As a healthcare provider, if you want to deliver your patients a modern healthcare experience, you must implement a patient portal.
Remember: implementing portals involves challenges. But, if you take the right implementation steps, you can successfully roll out an engaging patient portal in your organization.
How to implement a patient portal?
While looking for patient portal adoption, the steps that can help you succeed are:
- Outline clinic or hospital needs and goals
It is essential for your healthcare practice to understand your needs before undergoing patient portal adoption.
Your practice may need functionalities that others do not. That’s why this step helps you determine what you want out of the portal technology. A portal for speciality groups may be more about retaining patients and family members and less about chronic disease management. To gain repeat patients and retain their families, speciality groups engage patients through portals.
Conversely, a general physician might be more focused on building strong relationships with patients and needs messaging and connectivity support. That’s because strong messaging capability and seamless access to patient records help providers build strong relationships with their patients.
Naturally, the organization-wide priorities for portals vary from practice to practice (just as from speciality groups to general practitioners). In order to understand your portal adoption goals, you should consider your current EHR (electronic health record) vendor, budget, interoperability, and patient priorities.
- Evaluate the right features
Numerous organizations have already implemented patient portals, but their patients still do not use their portals. This is partly because patients think they do not need it or find no value in using a portal. It might also be because the portals do not have enough features.
As a healthcare provider developing a patient portal, you must have an idea of what features patients expect to see in the portals. Otherwise, if you build your portal and your patients don’t use it, you will realize you have wasted your time and money.
But, then, how do you know what features you need to offer within the portal?
You can get started with the essential features that make things simple for patients. Consider adding the following features:
New Patient Registration
You need a quick registration process to capture information about new patients calling in for appointments.
Going over the medical history of a new patient takes a huge chunk of time. Adding a medical history section in the portal helps save time on initial visits. Patients can fill out their medical information by logging in to the portal, conveniently from their homes.
Managing Appointment Times
Giving patients the ability to schedule, cancel, and reschedule appointments is another essential feature to consider.
If you have not used online scheduling tools yet, your patients might be already frustrated with your scheduling mechanism. But, it is an easy fix.
Now, you can incorporate online scheduling with patient portals. By adding this component to your portal, you can make it easy for patients to manage their visits and appointments.
Online payments are gaining popularity. Many practices are going paperless, and young consumers value this digital transformation.
It gives patients quick options to make payments, which, in turn, also helps your facility get paid faster.
- Finalize all the features
Patient portals are one component of broad healthcare information management. Patients use these portals to access health records, communicate with their care providers, and better manage their health.
In order to provide patients convenience, include features that capture patient data and feed it back to them.
Your approach to deciding components must be patient-centered. Get your patients involved and ask them what they expect to have in the portals. Since patients have a wide variety of expectations, let them know what features are available and which are not.
Most patients want portals in simple language so that they do not take any information out of proportion.
An estimated 90% of American adults have difficulty understanding prescription directions and often take wrong drug doses.
They need help understanding drug labels and prescriptions. Providing these patients with a quick communication mechanism supported via a portal can allow them to get their queries answered quickly.
Besides this direct communication, the features most patients prefer to see in the portals are:
- Patient education materials to educate them more on their health
- Uploading lab and test results to save from the hassle of calling patients to provide you with these details
- Vaccination records to keep proof of vaccines
- Prescription refills for patients to order refills with much ease
- Research different solutions
While searching for portals, make sure to explore every possible option in the market until you get your hands on the best one.
Patient portals are of two main types:
- Standalone systems
- Integrated systems
A standalone system works in isolation, and an integrated system usually comes as part of an EHR system or practice management software.
Many telemedicine software for healthcare providers are available in the market to tailor the software to your specific needs. They can incorporate many functions in portals to help you increase patient engagement, manage costs, and streamline workflows.
Besides searching for custom software, some of the top-performing patient portals you need to know about are:
Athenahealth offers a secure patient portal for patients to access their demographics, health records, and financial information. Athenahealth portal provides patients with convenient functionality and motivates them to manage their treatment plans, medication, admissions, and communication with their caregivers.
By implementing the portal in your practice, you can improve communication with patients and achieve efficiency across the care continuum.
ChartLogic’s Connect Patient is more than standard patient portals that only meet meaningful use requirements.
Connect Patient can give you complete control over how you engage your patients. The portal is mobile-friendly and easy to access from anywhere.
It helps you engage patients through appointment scheduling, automated SMS reminders, patient intake forms, online payments, and more. On the whole, Connect Patient makes engagement an achievable task and improves patient experience to drive satisfaction.
DrChrono Onpatient Portal creates a secure communication thread for patients to communicate with their providers. It empowers patients to manage their health data by playing an active role using the portal.
You can use DrChrono to allow your patients to schedule their appointments and pay bills online. It helps you send patients automated reminders to reduce no-shows. Thus, it also improves your revenue. With DrChrono, you can get direct access to your patients at the level you choose.
The three portals: Athenahealth, DrChrono, and ChartLogic are some of the popular choices. But, there are lots of other options that different vendors offer. You can learn more about them by connecting to the vendors.
- Select a patient portal vendor
The selection of a patient portal vendor depends on the goals you determined in step one.
You first need to consult your list of essential requirements and then compare it with the offering of the vendor to see which vendor offers the best user experience (UX). The portal with interactive healthcare UX design will help you increase patient engagement with the portal.
Many healthcare app development services already offer an inclusive suite of functions, combining EHR tools with patient portals. This might be the kind of patient portal you want to implement.
To understand which vendor offers this solution, go through these steps:
- Conduct vendor assessment to collect information about the vendor and portal
- Ask peers for reviews and contact medical societies you are part of to learn about portal evaluation tools
- Design and send a request for information (RFI) to the vendor
- Compare different RFI responses returned by vendors
- Conduct demonstrations to watch how each portal works and have face-to-face interaction with the vendor’s team
- Once you select a vendor, contact practices that have had successful implementation with that vendor
By the end of these steps, you must have narrowed down the list of vendors to a few valuable options. To make the final decision, you need to establish objectives, plan how the portal will affect your workflow, and finally move to the contract phase.
- Get buy-in from key stakeholders
Before moving on to the next step in implementation, it is always wise to get buy-in from all stakeholders.
The most successful patient portal adoptions begin with keeping every stakeholder in the loop and making sure they are willing to adopt a new system.
Communicate benefits, features, and steps for the implementation of the new patient to the stakeholders. Make sure to get everyone on board before jumping into execution.
- Evaluate and enhance existing workflows
If you choose a leading patient portal, it can distinguish itself from other standard portals by offering proficiencies in your workflows. You can become efficient once you identify where you lack.
Evaluate your workflows to identify where delays and inefficiencies lie. Replace time-consuming processes with quick and efficient features in the portal to enable new benefits for your practice and patients.
Incorporating features and benefits like scheduling appointments online and pre-visit form completions will help you enhance your practice workflows to a great extent.
- Develop an onboarding plan
Your implementation is only going to be successful when your staff and patients know how to use the portal.
To help them get the hang of the portal, select a partner that provides onboarding consultation and training to ensure you bring off your new portal implementation.
With the right training in place, you will be surprised to see patients and staff getting the knack of the patient portal. Once everyone finds it easy to use, they will be excited to access healthcare data through the portal.
This way, you can make sure to get the most out of your portal and take full advantage of all it offers. When you create your onboarding plan, you can include new policies, required workflow changes, details on training, and roles and responsibilities you assign to practice staff.
- Successful go-live
By this time, your end users have learned about the different features of the portal. Now, you can make the patient portal available to the entire practice.
When you talk about the portal to patients, make sure to communicate all benefits clearly and address their privacy concerns and questions.
You can increase portal adoption by marketing the portal to patients and raising awareness about it however possible.
- Seek out the great ways for painless portal migration
The idea of adopting a new portal or switching portals may seem frightening to your staff. That’s because transferring data of already-registered patients to the new portal is always painful.
To make data transfer easy and get staff buy-in, you need to find a patient portal vendor that offers migration as part of the overall transition plan (of switching portals).
Before you begin data transfer or migration, here are a few things you need to keep in mind to avoid mishaps:
- Know what you expect during the migration process to ease the burden of switching portals
- Decide which migration method is best for your practice. Choose a smooth, flexible, and safe migration path.
- Learn about the configuration of demographics
- Eliminate duplicate data instances
- Configure and test the data, and you are good to go.
Why implement portals?
Today’s patients are curious to learn more about their health and want complete access to their health-related information. Portals give them easy access to their EHRs and help them compare their records over time against norms, allowing them to make changes to improve their health.
Through portals, you can encourage patients to manage their health care services. Active involvement of patients in their health care leads to improvement in outcomes.
It also helps medical facilities promote loyalty among patients and drive revenue.
Like every technology, adopting a patient portal may seem daunting, but with the right vendor support, you can make it. An ideal vendor partner will support you throughout implementation, making the process as painless as possible.
But, to make the best use of the portal and the money you invest, you need to add engaging features and tools that attract patients and help you win patient satisfaction.
How to market the patient portal to end-users?
Marketing a new patient portal starts with spreading the word of mouth. You can follow these practical tips to market your new patient portal to users.
- Provide handouts to patients in the reception or the waiting area so they can read while waiting for their appointments.
- Send postcards to patients telling them about the portal and encouraging them to book their next appointment via the portal.
- Put an interactive kiosk, a computer terminal, on the front desk for patients to register themselves for the portal and add necessary details.
- Add a link to the portal on your website or office
- Change your call hold messages and include information about the portal
- Set your portal as the preferred method of sending information to patients. To increase patient response, tell them your portal is the preferred platform for communication.
- Add taglines to emails, newsletters, appointment cards, and other communication means. Keep your tagline like “Tired of manual health record tracking? Sign up for our portal now to get instant insight into your health data.”
What elements should be incorporated into a patient portal?
Patient portals are mainly developed to connect patients with their care facility from wherever they are, giving them instant access to their health-related data.
To develop patient portals, every facility needs to evaluate its options and assess a full range of portal components.
However, there are some features that prompt patients to use the portals. You must include these useful features:
- Online bill pay
- Secure (HIPAA-compliant) messaging
- Prescription refills
- Appointment requests and reminders
- Clinical summaries and notes
- New patient registration
- Ability to update demographic information
- Medication ordering
How do you optimize patient portals for patient engagement?
Patient portals attract patients when they are appealing and helpful to them. Patients who feel comfortable with portals and save their time on many time-consuming tasks are more likely to use portals.
You can engage your patients by optimizing the portal in many ways:
- Provide patients with educational materials to help them understand treatments and
- Save their time through online registration
- Allow them to efficiently exchange information with clinicians
- Make appointment requests available online
- Allow them to access their health records and update components of medical records if required
- Upgrade features and make the portal more sophisticated
What is HL7?
HL7 (Health Level 7) is a not-for-profit organization that develops data integration solutions for healthcare. HL7 has been providing a number of standards to facilitate the transfer of healthcare data between various systems.
Its first developed standard is HL7 (named after the company) which has been supporting the exchange of information for more than 30 years. In 2010, HL7 introduced the FHIR standard as a promising solution to increase interoperability among medical software development services.
What’s the difference between HL7 vs FHIR?
HL7 is a set of international standards that supplements the exchange of data between clinical and administrative systems. It is divided into two categories, namely V2 and V3 that define a framework for the meaningful use of data through HL7 integration.
FHIR, a promising standard by HL7, combines functions of V2 and V3 with the latest web standards. The major benefit it offers is interoperability. FHIR helps exchange information securely between various medical devices and EHRs.
HL7 employs messages to send records of health-related information. Each message sent to a provider contains one item of data.
Some common HL7 messages examples include laboratory records, patient records, and billing information.
What are some medical device integration companies offering EHR data integration?
Lots of integration companies offer connectivity solutions.
Some of the popular EHR data integration solutions are Cerner HL7 integration, Allscripts EHR integration, and Epic integration. These integration service providers offer seamless interoperability (the ability of medical devices to exchange information) among EHR and EMR systems.