Electronic Health Records

Policy & Regulation News

Why Don’t 35% of Patients Know that Patient Portals Exist?

By Jennifer Bresnick

Patient portals are becoming important tools for engagement and population health, but patients are largely unaware of the technology.

While patients are generally enthusiastic about viewing their EHR data and engaging with their providers online, a concerning number of patients are unaware of the possibilities of using a patient portal, finds a new survey from Xerox.  Among the 64 percent of patients who are not portal users, 35 percent did not know a portal was available to them, and 31 percent stated that their providers had never mentioned the technology to them.  Despite the widespread lack of knowledge, 57 percent of non-users said they would be more engaged and more proactive in their own healthcare if they had access to their data online.

“With providers facing regulatory changes, mounting costs, and patients who increasingly seek access to more information, our survey points to an opportunity to address issues by simply opening dialogue with patients about patient portals,” said Tamara St. Claire, Chief Innovation Officer of Commercial Healthcare for Xerox. “Educating patients will empower them to participate more fully in their own care while helping providers demonstrate that electronic health records are being used in a meaningful way.”

The survey indicates a generation gap when it comes to how patients use online tools.  While baby boomers are more likely to view patient portals as a utilitarian feature by making appointments online (70 percent), refilling prescriptions (58 percent), and communicating through emails with their physicians (60 percent), millennials view portals as an informational hub.  Younger patients want to see personalized information (44 percent), tailored care plans, details about related services from their providers (44 percent), and industry news that might relate to their issues and concerns (23 percent).

Perhaps surprisingly, baby boomers, aged 55 to 64, were among the most frequent users of patient portals.  Eighty-three percent of this age group indicated that they already do or would be very interested in communicating with their healthcare providers through a portal.  Millennials were more likely to want mobile access to online tools, with 43 percent stating their preference for smartphone and tablet interfaces.

Providers can help to shape patient engagement – and help themselves to meet the 5 percent patient engagement threshold included in Stage 2 meaningful use – by taking the time to educate patients about their options and opportunities.  Reinforcing the idea of signing up for a patient portal account at multiple points along the patients’ journey through the office, from check-in to follow-up, can help to secure a patient’s interest.  And physicians themselves should take the lead, St. Claire asserts.

“Physicians just aren’t having that dialogue,” she said to HealthITAnalytics.  “When we look at some of the best practices out there, we see that having that conversation multiple times along the patient’s path through the office is most effective.  And we think having that conversation directly with their physician is going to be most important.  People really want to hear it from their physician, because they’re that trusted source.  Even as medicine is changing, having that talk with the physician is probably going to have the most impact.”

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