Healthcare News & Insights

Are patient portals effective at engaging patients?

A new survey shows patient engagement will be a major issue for hospital leaders. But another recent study shows getting patients involved in their care will take more than just a patient portal. 

ThinkstockPhotos-457369787Patient engagement is quickly becoming a major issue for many providers, thanks partially to the rise of the meaningful use program and the shift toward value-based payment models.

But while many organizations want to engage patients, many have struggled to do so.

That’s one of the takeaways from two recently released studies exploring how much of a priority patient engagement is and whether tools like patient portals are an effective tool to improve engagement from the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

Looking to health IT for solutions

In the first study, the “26th Annual HIMSS Leadership Survey,” researchers surveyed more than 300 hospital leaders and found about 72% of respondents were making patient considerations, like engagement, satisfaction and quality of care, a top priority this year.

Many leaders believe that health IT is the key to addressing these issues:

  • 74% said health IT was crucial for coordinating care, reporting on quality metrics and fostering better efficiency
  • 68% said they were already successfully using health IT to help them improve patient experience, satisfaction and quality of care
  • About two-thirds of respondents said they would be expanding their IT operating budgets, and
  • Nearly half said they would increase the size of their IT staff over the year.

Notably, when it came to leveraging health IT for engagement, 87% of respondents said their organization had implemented a patient portals as a key patient engagement tool.

But another study from HIMSS says patient portals may not be as effective at engaging patients as leaders had hoped.

More than patient portals

The second HIMSS survey polled leaders from more than 100 organizations and conducted a focus group of nine healthcare leaders.

Researchers found that hospitals strategies for engaging patients may not be going far enough to get patients involved in reviewing their medical records, adopting healthier behaviors or managing their conditions between visits.

Respondents told researchers that the features current portals offer aren’t advanced enough to fully engage patients.

Some of the engagement features leaders said they were looking for from next-generation electronic health records (EHRs) and patient portals, included:

  • the ability to conduct remote consultations (80%)
  • interoperability between providers (70%), and
  • health evaluation and coaching tools (70%).

Though implementing patient portals is a good first step toward getting patients involved in their own care and health management, the survey shows that leaders must go beyond portals to truly engage their patients.

Researchers also found many hospitals’ engagement strategies don’t go beyond implementing portals, and often lack executive buy-in and financial resources. As a result, spending on patient engagement is scattered across departments and isn’t coordinated as part of any larger goal or pre-determined plan, meaning engagement efforts aren’t as effective as they could be.

Consider developing a patient engagement committee which includes members of your leadership and resources to carry out plans. You may also want to consider other methods for engaging patients, such as education classes for health management or leveraging remote monitoring or other mobile health devices.

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