The Perks of Patient Portals—for Your Patients and Your Practice

In the past decade, public opinion about online banking has undergone a transformation. Initially the idea of paying one’s bills over the Internet was regarded with uneasiness, but now this feature is an absolute requirement when customers are choosing where to open a new account. In the not-so-distant future, this same scenario will likely be the case for medical practices and their online engagement opportunities—patient portals.

Patient portals enable your office to connect with patients whenever and wherever they desire. No longer must a patient remember to call during business hours or wait on hold to speak to a live person. They can now take care of such tasks as making appointments, viewing test results, and investigating educational resources whenever they want online. The increased ease with which people can initiate these kinds of interactions with your office will lead to significant positive results—chiefly in the areas of patient follow-through and a long-term investment in your practice.

The key? Make the patient portal accessible, meaningful, attractive, and easy to use. And then make sure your patients know about it and understand the multiple benefits of utilizing it. Clinics have trouble getting patients to interact with the portal when the portal doesn’t make a personal engagement with people. You can sidestep that obstacle by following a few simple steps:

1. Educate Your Staff

If you’ve already implemented the use of electronic records in your office, then you know that once the system is in place, it facilitates the future workload of your staff. Use this touchpoint as an illustration when you’re training your employees on the various inputs for the portal. Emphasize how patient usage of the portal will be a time-saver for everyone. Just a few examples of the tangible benefits for your staff include increased ease of patient check-in and insurance updates, less time spent on the phone, and less time and resources invested in making copies and preparing mailings. The staff’s newfound excitement about how portals can transform the nature of patient-practice interactions will be communicable to the patients, in turn causing patients to want to log in and see if it will really save them time.

Be extra intentional about training your front office staff, as they will have the most interactions with patients regarding tasks that can be taken care of on the portal. It is imperative that they be prepared to quickly resolve any issues patients might have with the portal during the initial adjustment period. Whether this training takes the form of additional paid hours of self-paced learning or bringing in a representative from the portal company to present a daylong seminar, invest the time and resources into educating those people who have the highest potential impact on patients’ interactions with the portal.

2. Layer the Flavor

An old rule of marketing is that you have to present your message seven times before the customer will get it. While the number is debatable, the concept of delivering information multiple times in multiple ways is not.

  1. Spend time talking to your patients about the features that will appeal to them on the patient portal. Emphasize that options such as test results, prescription refills, and preventative care recommendations will be available whenever the patient wants them.
  2. Instruct your employees to comment on or explain a particular feature of the portal to patients during their interactions with them. For example, your intake specialist can emphasize that the patient portal allows patients to see which appointment times are available at their convenience.
  3. Post information about the patient portal in the waiting room—and make it interesting. Patients will most likely have their smartphones or even their laptops with them, so make good use of their portable technology by encouraging them to access the portal while they’re waiting.
  4. Include instructions on how to access the portal in any written communications you send out.

If patients receive enough information about the portal from different points of contact, they will see its potential value and be more likely to check it out.

3. Provide Incentives for Patients Who Pay/Schedule/Update Information Online

No matter how attractive you make the portal, some people will still resist using it. Thus, overcoming the inertia of the status quo may require you to make an extra push. A small financial incentive might be just the encouragement these patients need, and it can be something as simple as receiving a discount on lab services when they log on to get their lab results.

Be inventive with how you engage your patients and help them understand that the portal will be a huge resource for them—and for you. Just like the beginning of any great relationship, you need to provide a solid introduction. Make it happen.

 

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