The benefits of online patient portals

Mobile and web technology has reshaped and evolved so many different aspects of people's routines that it's become a nearly essential part of people's day-to-day lives. The medical field is no different. Now more than ever before medical staff are using web technologies to communicate with patients, write and send prescriptions and schedule appointments.

To help make all of those processes easier, many health care facilities have turned to patient portals to organize and store vital medical data. By using integrated record and communication software, providers can use these patient portals to make their work faster and more secure.

"Patient portals are time savers."

The benefits of patient portals
Patient portals are time savers. According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, patient portals cut down on the time it takes to coordinate administrative tasks, like having patients fill out forms or request appointments. Doctors and nurses also spend less time making phone calls and answering emails when they have patients using portals that simplify the communication process, allowing medical teams to find and answer questions more efficiently. 

Not only are these programs better for efficiency, they also make routine processes like billing and providing patient medical records easy and instantaneous. They keep patients informed and cut down on tasks that administrators have to do.

Not enough patients currently use portals
Of course, all of the benefits of using patient portals in a health care facility are negated if the patients aren't using them. And according to an Annual Xerox Electronic Healthcare Record Survey, that seems to be the case for more than half of all Americans.

Xerox reported that 64 percent of patients are not using patient portals at all, though there seems to be a stronger desire to do so. Fifty-seven percent of patients who reported they did not use patient portals said that if they had online access to their medical records, they would be more engaged and proactive when it came to their own health care.

A big part of the disconnect comes from the fact that not all patients have access to, or familiarity with, modern online technology. Unsurprisingly, that's why older generations are less likely to be using online portals than millennials are, despite the fact that 2 out of 3 older Americans have chronic conditions that they could better monitor with online patient portals. 

Doctors can connect to patients from anywhere at any time with patient portals. Doctors can connect to patients from anywhere at any time with patient portals.

Encouraging portal engagement with patients
To get more people using these web programs, they first need to know about them and how they work. According to the Xerox study, 35 percent of respondents said that they didn't know about portals, and another 31 percent said they had never been discussed with their doctors. Physicians Practice suggests that having a provider sit down with patients and show them how to access their information can encourage more people to use this technology. Patients should be routinely asked if they are using their portals to make sure that they are aware the program even exists and to give them an opportunity to ask questions. Adding this inquiry to the standard list of intake questions can keep patients aware of the product. 

Another way to encourage more use from patients is to educate them on the benefits these programs offer, especially if providers can be specific about their patients' needs. 

For example, Xerox found that millennials are more likely to use mobile technology, so highlighting the different ways a portal can be accessed through tablets and smartphones may make it easier to get them engaged. This demographic was also more interested in viewing their medical records and getting personal recommendations, so these features could be highlighted to show how they will meet their needs. 

Patients from the baby boomer generation, however, reported that they are more likely to want patient portals to schedule appointments and ask questions to their medical teams. Since older patients are more likely to have chronic conditions that require follow up, it's understandable that their tech needs would prioritize convenience for obtaining referrals and checking on test results, among other things. 

Of course, while these statistics represent what the majority of these demographics reported, it certainly doesn't account for them all. The best way for providers to find out what their patients would like to get out of their patient portals is to ask them directly and point out the features that match those needs. Physicians could also make recommendations based on a patient's medical needs and current level of engagement. 

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