3 Ways to Boost Engagement and Overcome Patient Portal Challenges

by:
on March 5, 2018

Patient portals are secure websites patients can access using a unique username and password, where they can stay on top of their medical appointments and information around the clock.

Portals are also phenomenal tools for small practices that want to automate document management, reduce workloads and increase patient engagement.

When your patients use your portal to take ownership of their health, a whole bunch of good stuff happens:

  • Your patients take better care of themselves between visits
  • You get to enjoy clearer and quicker communication
  • Overall patient satisfaction goes way, way up

There are, however, a few issues small practices face when it comes to implementing this kind of software—the biggest of which is getting your patients to actually use it.

Don’t worry, though: that’s what we’re here to talk about.

Before we get into some strategies for increasing patient engagement, you can take comfort in the knowledge that more and more patients are finding their way to patient portals on their own.

According to a recent survey by the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), less than five percent of patients accessed their electronic health records through patient portals in 2013. In 2016, though, that number jumped up to 82 percent of patients.

Of the respondents who had access to patient portals (83 percent of those surveyed), 90 percent said they were either satisfied or very satisfied with them. So patients who are using their portals love them.

So, in spite of patient portal challenges you might be experiencing, remember: You’ve got the advantage of selling something that really will make your patients’ lives better.

All you need to do is figure out how to get your existing patient portal in front of your patients. Here are three strategies to do just that.

1. Give Patients the Tools They Want

This is the first and biggest step—especially if you already have a patient portal in place that isn’t quite cutting it.

Making it a genuinely valuable tool is the best way to address this patient portal challenge, and the way to do that is to give patients the features they find most useful. It’s also a great way to streamline workflows and boost efficiency in smaller practices since a lot of patient portal features automate the work it would normally take staff to get done.

According to research from Capterra in which their analyst surveyed users about their experience, patients look for eight things in a successful portal:

Ease of use Intuitive and simple to sign up for, access and interact with.
Communication Reliable, timely methods of communication that provide access to you and your team.
Document sharing Scan documents (such as insurance cards, lab results or identification) and attach them within the portal.
Notifications Messages or lab results should come with automatic alerts so that don’t have to be responsible for manually checking their portal every day.
Appointment scheduling Schedule new appointments (including filling out intake forms if they’re required) as well as make changes to or cancel existing appointments.
Electronic medical records Access test results, prescriptions or diagnoses quickly; portals that integrate with EMRs are highly valued.
Mobile integration Access portals via mobile devices, which makes smartphone or tablet-friendly interfaces key.
Bill management View bills (itemized or summary) and make payments through the portal.


Figuring out which features matter most to your patients is important, so don’t be shy about seeking out that information. If you’re in the process of searching for new patient portal software, consider running your own survey among your patients asking what capabilities they’d most like to see.

If you’re in the opposite boat and already have a patient portal in use, you can still benefit from ensuring your patients have access to and know how to use its tools.

Regardless of your current setup, though, one feature that you’re going to start seeing a lot more demand for is self-scheduling.

Gartner (content accessible to Gartner members) makes this clear: If you offer self-scheduling now, you’re setting your practice apart from your competition. It won’t be long before self-scheduling becomes the norm, though, so make sure you’re ahead of the curve by implementing it as soon as possible.

2. Make Your Patient Portal Integral to Your Practice

Here’s where your team has to take some ownership of the patient portal engagement challenge. Once you’ve got the right tools in place, you must make it your whole practice’s primary means of communication with patients.

By incorporating the portal’s capabilities throughout the patient experience—beginning before they even walk through your door and continuing after they get home—you can teach patients to think of the portal as a way to stay involved in the healthcare process.

Here are a few ways to do this:

Require patients to create a patient portal profile. Check whether or not patients have created an account before they come in for their scheduled appointment. If they haven’t, send an email or make a phone call to remind them to do so. Time spent getting your patients on the portal will be time saved once they make a habit of using it.

Use the portal as your principal method of communication. Emphasize to your patients at every point that the portal will be the fastest way to get in touch with you for any reason. Then—and this is important—make sure it is the fastest way to get in touch with you.

Set internal standards for your team to respond to every patient portal message within a certain amount of time so that your patients can see for themselves how valuable the portal is as a communication tool.

Promote the tools your patients will want to use. Remember: 90 percent of patients who had access to portals were satisfied with them—use that to inform the conversations you have with patients who aren’t so sure about signing up. Show them the value of using your patient portal by walking them through the key features they’re most likely to use.

For example, if you have a patient in your office who needs to return for a check-up in a month, tell them to schedule it through the portal rather than making a phone call. Explain that this will save them from having to sit on hold to make an appointment over the phone, and offer to help get them set up if they haven’t created a portal profile yet.

MDConnection patient portal dashboard

3. Show Patients How to Use It

Thanks to the increasing level of digital literacy in the world today and the fact that many software designers focus on user experience when creating patient portals, a good portion of patient portal challenges are solved by the time it’s time for a patient to log on.

Still, patients who hesitate to adopt a patient portal are often the same patients who won’t know how to use it, so teaching them how to navigate the website will be key to getting them on board.

You’ll realize quickly that a lot of patients will have the same questions about using a patient portal. To address common queries, keep a list of answered FAQs in your office that you can hand out to patients.

Once your patients understand what the portal is and that it’s secure, you can get into a more detailed explanation of your specific patient portal software.

At least one person in your office should always be available to answer patients’ questions about the portal. That could mean dedicating a “specialist” on your team to take point on this, or just making sure everyone at your practice is knowledgeable enough to help patients understand the tools.

Key Takeaway

By teaching your patients how to stay engaged with their medical care after they walk out your door, you’re empowering them to take charge of their health.

If you stick with it and do all you can to promote these tools, the inevitable results will be better care for your patients, higher patient satisfaction rates and a more successful practice—and that makes any patient portal challenges you face worth it.

If you have more questions about patient portal use or any other medical software, our team of advisors can help steer you towards systems that meet your exact needs. You can call, chat or click to get customized advice for your medical practice software needs anytime.

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