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Patient Portals Pay Off

Marianne Aiello, for HealthLeaders Media, July 15, 2010
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Patient portals aren't a hard sell—once patients and physicians understand the benefits. They allow patients to communicate with physicians, view lab results, schedule appointments, and share other patient information within a secure online platform. Electronic doctor-patient communication is a growing trend, with 39% of physicians using e-mail, secure message, or instant message to share information with patients in 2009, a 14% increase since 2006, according to Manhattan Research. When implemented and marketed correctly, portals can improve patient and physician satisfaction.

"I think it's a really great tool to use for patients who are working and don't have time during the regular 9-to-5 day to call us on the phone," says Barbara Fahl-Watkins, administrator at Heart & Vascular Center of Arizona, a five-facility cardiovascular clinic based out of Phoenix. "We have many patients—even some that are out of the country—who would love to be able to e-mail us in a secure fashion, so the patient portal really meets that goal."

HVCA marketers created wall posters and flyers to inform patients about the portal when it launched in March. About 70 people signed up in the first month, there were approximately 200 by mid-May, and Fahl-Watkins expects enrollment to pick up soon and take some burden off staff.

"It makes communication with the patient that much easier because you're cutting out the message taker in the front office—and that helps the front office as well," she says. "We aren't seeing it yet, but it would be decreasing our phone volume once we get people registered and comfortable."

At Elmhurst (IL) Clinic, an eight-facility multispecialty group, about 10,000 patients have signed up for its patient portal after 18 months. Patients learned about the features though an integrated ad campaign and word-of-mouth marketing.

"It was our reception staff that would tag that onto the end of a conversation, letting the patient know that it was available and hoping to get them signed up at that time," says Claudia Webb, director of business operations at Elmhurst. "We also put together a brochure of a lot of our different technologies, but one of the items highlighted was the ability to join the patient portal. And over time the physicians started to advertise it with their patients at the end of the visit, and that was the way for the physician to get engaged so he could send back the test results."

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