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Why aren’t patients flocking to your portal?
Some patients, for whatever reason, just plain will not sign on to your spiffy, modern-tastic patient portal. But they’re in the minority. If your portal is up and running, you’ll need to get the word out—more than once. You might also need to sell patients on the benefits of signing up.
First, get a reality check. Is the portal’s usability up to the standards of a web-savvy patient population? You can probably think of a few online sites you clicked away from because signing in was confusing, difficult, or subject to draconian time limits. Have a member of your office staff attempt to log in and describe the experience, good or bad. Did he or she have to search through pages to find basic information?
Many patients want better access to their health data and are receptive to online tools that can help them get or share this information. But telling patients about a portal won’t help if most of them can’t access it or don’t understand what’s on it. This is why it’s important to keep informing patients about your portal.

Patient portal
Ensure patient engagement by getting your staff enthused about portal use.

Get the word out

Getting the word out is easier if your portal has a bulk enrollment feature. You can pull email addresses for patients who aren’t yet using the portal and upload them into the system. There are some caveats to this approach. In some instances, unexpected or unfamiliar email is likely to end up in the spam pile. Other patients might open and read the enrollment message and then let you know they don’t appreciate being automatically enrolled. They may be less inclined to use the portal as a result.
Maybe your patients need to hear about your fantastic portal from enthusiastic practice staff. A recent study in the Annals of Family Medicine found that patients significantly increased their use of a portal when office staff were energized about its use. This makes sense: Most of the time, patients interact more with receptionists, nurses, and medical assistants during their visit than with their physicians.
Show patients how the portal benefits them. For example, highlight its convenience, the way it eliminates long wait times on hold, and the way it facilitates faster appointment access or makes medical-record information readily available. Given the choice between a robocall or an email reminder, many patients prefer email. A portal can also inform everyone at once if the office needs to close unexpectedly, due to unusual circumstances such as snowstorms or hurricanes.
Incentives might be a good way of showing patients the value they will derive from portal use. Practices that can afford to do so should offer a discount to patients who use the portal to pay a bill. Another freebie might be a periodic raffle for patients who book one or more appointments online.

Consider your audience

Don’t assume that your older patients are the ones who don’t want to engage. They might be your most enthusiastic portal users. Patient engagement with your portal may also be higher for those who suffer from a chronic condition.
Customize portal information to meet individual patients’ needs. The AFM study found a customized implementation strategy resulted in 25.6 percent of patients using the interactive record, with the rate increasing 1.0 percent per month over 31 months.
If a patient uses an online chat feature, make sure his or her questions get answered as soon as possible. Timeliness is critical.
Keep it understandable. If portal content is full of unfamiliar medical terms, acronyms, and medico-regulatory jargon, people might not be able to understand the relevant information nested in the verbiage.
It’s worth repeating. Merely launching a portal isn’t “mission accomplished.” Healthcare changes, and practices gain and lose clinical professionals. Portal content must keep up. Enlist a staff member or hire outside expertise to manage portal information and usability.
Patient portal
Some patients might not sign up for a healthcare portal because they’re worried about maintaining their privacy in an increasingly connected, vaguely sinister world. This is especially true of their personal health data. Many of these people routinely bank or pay bills online. These perceptions may be difficult to overcome because many companies haven’t been forthright regarding their privacy policies and because data breaches are reported frequently, making many people wary of posting or sharing their personal data.
There is no way to completely safeguard shared information but portal technology security is evolving. Practices can and should take advantage of the security features (especially encryption) in their portal software and the systems that connect to it, such as EHRs, billing, and practice management.
Make sure all staff know your practice is taking precautions to keep patient information secure. Curious patients will ask.
Finally, keep this in mind. Even if your portal is fantastic and completely up to date, it’s probably not your patients’ top priority. Most of your patients aren’t anti-tech; they’re busy. It takes time for patients to sign up and start using any new system. Be patient, and keep promoting the benefits of the portal.

Last Updated on February 8, 2017

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