- Getting patients to engage fully in their healthcare has remained a significant challenge for providers. Nearly two decade ago, the Professional Practice Division of the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) began educating health information management (HIM) professionals to consider methods for improving patient engagement. “We said the same thing twenty years ago that I’m going to say to you today, but my point is the electronic health record has made all of this really come together and be what it is today,” argued Mary Reeves, Director of HIM at Vanderbilt University.
Prior to the introduction of electronic health records (EHRs), patient access to health information took the form of folders containing hard copies of paper records, some of which were voluminous. With today’s health information technology (IT), providers are now equipped with the tools capable of increasing patient access to health information while maintaining the integrity of electronic records.
Before handling the floor over to her colleague Anne Dixon, RHIA, of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Reeves opened yesterday’s second session, “Empowering Consumers with Health Information, with an appeal to the audience to engage their patients through systems already available to them in their current EHR systems. “That’s the message I want everyone to hear loud and clear. You’re all implementing electronic records. Many of the systems have portals as part of those systems. Please get involved. This is our future,” continued Reeves, “We’re very well trained and equipped to do this. That’s your takeaway today, back in your local setting — wherever it may be — please get involved in this.”
As Dixon would go on to explain, Vanderbilt University has embraced and seen the benefits of opening up access to their patients via its patient portal, My Health at Vanderbilt. Since 2006, the university medical center has observed a significant increase in patient use of the portal, from 22,039 in 2006 to 193,969 as of June 2012. During the session, Dixon noted that My Health at Vanderbilt had eclipsed the 200,000 mark since June.
While support for patient engagement continues to grow among providers, which was demonstrated by the sizeable number of clinicians who indicated their hospitals were using patient portals, the challenge remains to convince many providers about the value of patient portals to the providers themselves. According to Dixon, it’s a simple matter of good business. Patients are customers who look for value and remain loyal based on the suite of services they receive for their care provider. From a business perspective, the use of a patient portal has numerous benefits for provider and their organizations:
• Patient retention
• Increase in new patient, referrals
• Employee retention
• Enhanced organization reputation
• Improved patient outcomes
The business of healthcare requires that providers and organizations care about its patients as beneficiaries of their care as well as consumers. If patient portals lead to happier patients, then the outcome is likely to be good for business.
For eligible professionals and hospitals in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services EHR Incentive Programs, patient portals are helpful in achieving meaningful use as early as Stage 1 Meaningful Use and crucial to achieving meaningful use in Stage 2 and beyond, based on requirements that half of patients seen will be able to view, download, and transmit information within a few days following their visit.
In name, the patient portal is first and foremost about the patient. In actuality, the patient portal is an extension of the clinical encounter between physicians and patients that enables more timely health information exchange and continued health management beyond the four walls of the hospital. If patients are customers, then their experience of healthcare must be acknowledged and valued by providers. As Reeves emphasized, “This is our future.”
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