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Patient Portal Adoption Tops 90%, But Strong Patient Use Is Needed

Patient portal adoption reaches 90 percent, but more action is necessary to drive meaningful patient portal use.

Patient portal adoption has become nearly ubiquitous across the country, according to a recent Stat Poll from the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA).

The survey of nearly 1,800 respondents showed that 90 percent of healthcare organizations offer patient portal access to their patients. Among the 10 percent of organizations that do not offer patient portal access, most say they either have plans to adopt the tool or have the tool included in their EHR suite but have not yet implemented it with their patient population.

Of the 90 percent of organizations that do offer portal access, 43 percent said they accept patient-generated health data (PGHD). PGHD is health data that has been contributed by the patient, either from medical histories, patient observations, wearable sensors, or other biometric measuring devices.

Using PGHD can offer a more holistic view of the patient by contributing health metrics from in between care visits.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents said their patient portal vendors do not accept PGHD for clinician review, while 20 percent said they were unsure if their patient portal accepts PGHD.

The patient portal has long been viewed as the bedrock of patient engagement technology. Since the start of the EHR Incentive Programs, the patient portal has been the primary driver of digital patient engagement. Between those connotations and regulatory requirements to grant patient data access, the patient portal has become an essential tool for hospitals and clinician practices.

Patient portal adoption rates have been high for some time. A 2016 report from the American Hospital Association (AHA) showed that patient portal adoption had reached 92 percent. High adoption rates leave the door open for numerous patients to engage with their own health data, the report indicated.

But there is a difference between patient portal adoption and patient portal use, industry experts have asserted. Although most accounts find that patient portal adoption lingers at 90 percent, the Government Accountability Office revealed that patient portal use rates are at less than one-third of patients.

This means that although 90 percent of providers offer patient portals to their patients and patients sign up for the tool, just about 30 percent of patients actively use the portal.

This is likely because of poor usability. A patient portal is an excellent tool for creating patient engagement with care, so long as it is navigable, according to MGMA principal Pamela Ballou-Nelson, RN, MSPH, CMPE, PhD.

“I'm a big advocate of patient portals, if they are operative,” Ballou-Nelson wrote in an analysis of the recent MGMA Stat Poll. “However, many patient portals I have observed are clunky and offer nothing more than secure message exchanges.”

Organizations and patients should be looking for the following in a patient portal, Ballou-Nelson said:

  • The ability for patient data access
  • Online appointment scheduling
  • Online billing
  • Prescription refill requests
  • Data update capabilities, or ability to contribute PGHD

Other industry experts specifically praise the idea of online appointment scheduling and online billing. A patient portal will get use if it houses functions that patients truly want and need, according to Thomas Selva, MD, a pediatrician and Chief Medical Information Officer at the University of Missouri Health Care.

“If you ask an otherwise healthy individual, ‘Why would you use the portal?’ they would just look at you with a blank stare and say, ‘There's nothing there,’” Selva said in a previous interview.

“We started asking, ‘What would bring people to the portal?’’’ he continued. “That was, again, what reduces the friction between the patient and the healthcare facility or the healthcare they're trying to acquire.”

For most patients, that can be online appointment scheduling or bill pay, but patient-focused amenities will naturally depend on an individual patient population.

Other industry experts say changing the format of the patient portal could spark more meaningful adoption. Few patients sit down at their laptops or desktop computers anymore. Offering the patient portal on a mobile-optimized interface will let patients take the portal on-the-go.

The patient portal does have a lot to offer patients, and because of certain regulatory requirements, may be the tool best positioned to fulfill certain benchmarks. But to gain a meaningful return on investment with the tool, organizations must aim higher than offering the tool.

By making the patient portal into a tool a patient both wants to and needs to use, organizations can create more meaningful engagement with the technology.

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