- Even though the Stage 3 Meaningful Use proposed rule is now dominating the public dialogue about the EHR Incentive Programs, many healthcare providers are still struggling to meet Stage 2 Meaningful Use regulations. One of the key issues that concerns providers is the difficulty of increasing patient engagement and the use of patient portals.
Having patients be more aware and have more control over their own health is necessary to ensure better patient outcomes and quality of care. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) state on their website these intentions as their primary reason for emphasizing patient engagement in Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs.
Stage 2 Meaningful Use calls for more patient-centered care that includes providing patients with access to download and view their electronic health information through portals. Additionally, providers are encouraged to send patient follow-up reminders and preventive care correspondence.
Providers will need to ensure that more than 5 percent of their patients access their data through patient portals and utilize secure messaging tools to speak with their physician. In order to assist providers in meeting these requirements, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) provides a fact sheet to assist in the implementation of patient portals.
First, ensuring a portal is user-friendly and engaging is key in meeting this requirement under Stage 2 Meaningful Use. Transitioning toward using this technology during clinical examinations or treatments may improve decision-making, patient-physician communication, and self-care support.
Often, the older population may not be as tech-savvy with regard to accessing their health data through a patient portal. ONC suggests training these patients to use the tools and services available through a portal.
Some key actions that providers should take to improve patient engagement is to implement proactive and engaging features as well as promote and expedite portal use. There are a variety of benefits providers gain from portals such as efficient and effective communication channels with patients, greater self-care initiative from patients, and higher patient satisfaction.
Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements call for providing patients with clinical summaries, patient-specific education support, secure messaging tools, follow-up care or preventive health reminders, and access to their medical records.
When developing a patient portal, it is useful to have interactive features that are relevant to patient needs. A portal should go beyond merely scheduling features and a method for displaying lab results. Incorporating decision tools and secure messaging capabilities will catalyze the regular use of patient portals. For additional expertise in implementing patient portals, the ONC fact sheet recommends providers to seek the assistance of regional extension centers (RECs).
Currently, patient portals are expanding not only nationwide but also across the globe. A press release from Frost & Sullivan emphasizes the high adoption rate of patient portals in Africa.
“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 the 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.”