Six Ways to Increase Practice Portal Sign-Ups

Nearly three-fourths of Texas physicians who responded to TMA’s 2016 physician survey on health information technology said they have a patient portal in their practice. However, more than half of the respondents experienced challenges getting patients to use it.

Many said they had low patient adoption rates because patients preferred speaking with a practice physician or staff, or their patients had no interest in using a portal. Others had patients with technology hurdles, like no computer or adequate internet access, or lack of computer skills.

While your practice can’t overcome patients’ technology deficiencies, you may be able to get many reluctant patients on board using these tips:

  1. Be a physician advocate. In a case study reported by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, (ONC) one medical group found that in its clinics, it was particularly persuasive when physicians encouraged patients to use the portal. That’s because patients trust their doctor and value their doctor’s opinions. ONC suggests these talking points for physicians:

    • Do you use email? The portal is just a secure email system that we can use to communicate.
    • You can send me a message and it goes right into your chart, so I have all of your information at hand when I read it and respond.
    • If you use it and don’t like it, you don’t have to continue to use it. Just let us know. 
    • It’s really very easy to use. If you use the internet, you’ll most likely find the portal helpful and easy to navigate.
     
  2. Set patient expectations. In the ONC case study, patients were reassured when staff and physicians explained the patients will receive through the portal only appointment reminders, clinical summaries, answers to their specific questions, and the like — no spam. Tell patients that the portal is for the exchange of medical information only, and they don’t even need to respond with “Thank you!” advises the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) (because that also creates another message your practice will have to check).
  3. Ask why not, so you can counter patients’ hesitation. Writing in Family Practice Management , Kenneth Adler, MD, said he routinely asks his patient why they don’t sign up for the portal. “Some are worried about privacy; others don’t enjoy using computers, forget their passwords, or just don’t see the benefits,” he said. “They aren’t thinking ahead to that unplanned emergency department visit where a portal would let them pull up their medication, allergy, and problem lists on their phone for the doctor to see.”
  4. Use simple marketing techniques. The Advisory Board passes along these tactics:

    • Print out notepads so you can write patients a “prescription” for portal enrollment.
    • Use your on-hold message to tell patients they can get information and answers through the portal (instead of sitting on hold).
    • When you mail lab results or bills, promote the portal as a way to get that same information more quickly/pay a bill via the portal.
     
  5. Emphasize patient convenience. “To attract patients, make sure your portal has the features they care about most,” says the Advisory Board. “Proxy access for parents of minor patients or caregivers of older patients is one particularly powerful feature.” Patients also like the ability to request prescription refills, schedule appointments, pay their bill, and access patient education material.

    Pitch the portal to patients in terms of these benefits. “If the message patients receive is that they are now responsible for managing their own health, don’t expect a glowing response,” says Psychiatric Times. “Patients … are interested in tools that are going to make their lives easier, not more complicated. … In our experience, the most successful practices we’ve observed spend time developing an ‘elevator pitch,’ presenting in 30 seconds or less how a portal will benefit the patient.
  6. Offer in-office registration. In the ONC case study, registration for the portal involved patients providing their email address at the front desk and being given a password to register from home. Some patients failed to complete the registration process after leaving the clinic. A better way is to provide in-office tablets or kiosks, or allow patients to set up an account with an in-office registrar. HFMA cites a practice that makes portal registration a standard part of every new-patient appointment. The practice also requires patients to request medication refills through the portal, if possible, or through a web-enabled pharmacy (which the practice helps patients locate).

If you have questions about patient portals, call TMA’s HIT Helpline at (800) 880-5750 or email HIT@texmed.org.

Published Nov. 23, 2016

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Last Updated On

April 19, 2018