While patient portals can't replace an in-office visit, they have many benefits: They encourage patients to view test results and health records and can facilitate an ongoing
doctor-patient dialogue. They can reduce paperwork by serving as online billing and payment centers. They can also help practices meet meaningful use Stage 2 requirements, which state that providers
must have "at least five percent of their patients using an online patient portal" to get incentive payments.
But just because a practice creates a patient portal
doesn’t mean that patients will get the most from it – or even use it at all.
In a random survey of 1,540 U.S. patients about their experience with patient portals,
Software Advice, a software selection company, found the following:
- One-third of patients didn’t know if they had access to a patient portal.
- The most-used patient portal features are appointment scheduling and checking prescriptions/refills.
- Viewing test results was the second-most requested
- 21% of respondents wanted to be able to use a portal to view and pay bills online.
- The top drawbacks of
portals cited by patients are unresponsive staff (34%) and poor interfaces (33%).
Medical practices can help patients use their portals to the fullest with the following
- Improve communication to patients that they have access to your portal. Doctors or office staff can verbally remind patients to visit the portal and email
patients a link to the portal. They can also distribute printed cards with the portal’s Web address and instructions on how to use it.
- Use the portal to
provide patient education. Even if patients are using these portals to schedule appointments, pay bills, etc., this is not a replacement for providing education to patients about their health and
any conditions they may have. Consider making this type of content accessible on the portal.
- Use an online scheduling feature. For patients, online scheduling
can provide a more streamlined experience than calling on the phone. Medical practices also benefit from online scheduling. It saves staff time, and automatically generated appointment reminders can
help significantly reduce no-show rates.
- Make test results accessible on the portal. When Kaiser Permanente added a feature to its portal allowing
patients to view test results, registration jumped from 9% to 27%. If you’re concerned that the use of medical jargon will only cause confusion, only 11% of respondents said it would frustrate
them most when using a portal.
- Allow patients to view and pay medical bills online. A recent study by Intuit found that 77% of patients would be willing
to pay medical bills online if the option was available to them.
- Use a feature that lets patients check prescriptions and request refills on the portal. This
may have positive outcomes for patients. A study conducted by researchers at Kaiser Permanente found that diabetic patients who used an online portal to request refills were more likely to take their
- Minimize the use of the portal for email exchanges between patients and staff. Exchanging emails with staff is often cited as one the most common
uses of patient portals, but only 10% of respondents expressed a desire for it. This low number may be because of prior failed attempts at communication; for example, patients may have sent messages
to staff via a portal in the past that were ignored.Patients disliked automatic emails, with 22% of respondents citing this as the most annoying portal feature.
Simply making a portal available to patients will not ensure that they use it. Portals must be engaging, user friendly and should be integrated into clinical encounters so the care team can
use it to educate, communicate, and support self-care and decision making.