Electronic Health Records

Use & Optimization News

How EHR Portals Can Increase and Optimize Patient Engagement

By Sara Heath

Patient engagement is an important buzzword for healthcare providers to know, said Marcia Cheadle, RN, in a recent EHRIntelligence.com webcast. In order for patient engagement to be effective, providers need to learn how to integrate patients as partners in care, the Senior Director of Clinical Applications at Inland Northwest Health Services (INHS) added.

marcia cheadle explains patient portals and patient engagement

However, efforts to do so are impeded by struggles to provide patients with adequate methods of accessing information. Patient portals, which are often included on a hospital’s EHR, seem to be the most prevalent method by which patients may engage with their health information, but as Cheadle pointed out, patient portals present considerable hurdles in increasing patient engagement.

“Consumers said that a provider’s website needs improvement,” Cheadle said. “That we could not find the portal easily on the website, and if we did find the portal, they’re not easy to use, and they did not have an ability to find the information—either it wasn’t there or wasn’t the relevant information that the patient was looking for.”

Throughout the webcast, Cheadle provided strategies on how providers can increase patient engagement via the patient portal, as well as on where the healthcare industry is today in implementing that patient engagement.


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A huge economic industry expected to reach $9 million by 2017, patient portals on EHRs are major drivers of measuring patient engagement. Cheadle explained how patient portals have been used by the federal government to measure meaningful use success, and to subsequently reward outstanding providers or providers who are not up to par.

However, as Cheadle pointed out, most patients don’t visit with their physicians often, making the current model for EHRs and patient portals ineffective. Although patient behavioral and social data have an underscored importance, much provider technology doesn’t align itself with these goals, making it hard to implement truly meaningful patient engagement.

Data sharing

A critical aspect of patient engagement is patient access to medical information. That patient data sharing is the primary job of the patient portal, but as Cheadle explained, these portals don’t seem to be performing that job adequately.

She stated that portals have been fairly well implemented amongst many providers, but there are still no widespread positive results.

“Despite the success of the implementation of portals across the United States, our readmission rates into our hospitals is remaining relatively consistent,” she said. “We have not reduced the high cost of readmissions into the healthcare setting.”

Cheadle continued the rest of the webcast by explaining different strategies providers can implement to make best use of their patient portals to increase patient engagement.

What can we do?

Cheadle explained that it is important to use the overall structure of patient portals and change the way in which providers use them to engage with the patient. The means using a patient-by-patient, individualistic approach to patient engagement.

By using pre-existing parameters for the healthcare provider’s business model, physicians can alter their engagement strategies to integrate the needs of the patient and to incorporate the patient as a part of his or her own care team.

Creating patient partnerships

Cheadle suggested creating a balance and a feasibility in improving patient engagement by selecting top priorities and implementing them with excellence. Incorporating the patient as a part of the care team should be among those priorities.

“By having more patient involvement, that activation of the patients in their care journey, their longitudinal healthcare journey, we’re really looking to leave behind that unilateral decision-making, that white coat paralysis that happens to all of us when go in to see the doctor,” Cheadle said.

An important aspect of integrating patient portals into patient lives is to do so at a basic level. Cheadle suggested using this kind of technology for patients to do simple tasks such as update insurance information or medication and allergy information in the waiting room.

Determine consumer preference

Ultimately, Cheadle asserted, making patient portals more consumer-centric will make patients more likely to utilize them. This means establishing what a specific patient may want out of their portal.

Cheadle suggested engaging with patients’ health histories—gathering information about what they already know about their health conditions and feedback regarding the kinds of care they have received in the past. This will help providers to shape what kinds of information patients would like to receive from their portals.

Two components of patient portals, convenient reminders and photos, are really helping patients to engage. Convenient reminders can offer scheduling assistance or allow patients to remember to get a routine screening. Photos allow patients to see what is going on in their bodies—the progressing growth of a baby, or the healing of a broken bone, for example.

Education strategies

It is simply not enough to emphasize portal use, Cheadle said. Providers need to explain to consumers what to do with them as well. This means explaining how often they should use it, when to use it, and for what purposes.

This process may replace printouts used to outline patient self-care which often get discarded upon leaving the physician’s office.

“What if instead I said to the patient as they leave the emergency room in my discharge process, ‘hey, let me show you where your information is on your portal.’ What would that look like?” Cheadle said.

Taking a moment like the one Cheadle described is an opportunity not only to show patients the structure of the portal and how to access it, but to explain to them for what purposes they should be utilizing it.

Optimization of care

How do we use these strategies to optimize patient care? Cheadle said by providing patients with the skills and the resources to provide more health information during their next visit. By helping patients engage with their health information on the portal, as well as with any data collected via wearable technologies, patients can increase their own health knowledge and help their physicians increase the quality of their treatment.

Cheadle also emphasized the importance of opening dialogue over all points of care in order to foster an environment in which patients feel comfortable expressing health concerns.

“From an overall perspective just as a healthcare provider, really encouraging me as a healthcare provider to talk differently, to engage differently, maybe to take off my coat when I meet with the patient,” Cheadle said.

Keys to success

These patient engagement strategies are just a piece of the puzzle in terms of healthcare industry shifts, Cheadle said.

“In the big picture, we are in a huge healthcare shift, a huge change,” she said. “What we have not identified is that we are at a point where we have patient reform where we can engage and activate that curiosity by patients about their health and wellness, where we can begin to leverage that to improve overall their desired clinical outcomes.”

Through integrating these strategies to increase and optimize patient engagement, Cheadle said overall quality of care can flourish.

“I truly believe it is through these engagement strategies, these key strategies, that we can ultimately impact overall care.”



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