If you are striving to be meaningful use (MU)-compliant during 2014, you’ll need to encourage patients to access their health information online and communicate with your office electronically. Failing to do so means you won’t collect an incentive in 2014.
Under MU Stage 2, physicians must engage at least 5 percent of their patients via an online portal. That means those patients must actually access their online health information, and the same percentage must communicate with your office through a secure portal.
At the moment, however, most providers report portal utilization rates in the low single digits and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 6 percent of patients communicate with their healthcare providers by email, while an even smaller percentage communicate through a secure portal.
[See also: A Guide to Patient Portals for Medical Practices]
If you are not yet electronically engaging patients at the levels required under Stage 2, consider the following steps:
Educate your staff regarding MU2 requirements. While it may seem obvious, ensuring that everyone understands the minimum patient engagement requirements is step one. You’ll probably discover that most of your staff is not familiar with what's required, so it's important to educate them.
Consistently remind patients of the portal. Don’t assume that your patients know about the portal or understand why they should use it. Prominently reference your portal in your appointment reminder calls, internal office signs, business cards, and all other written and verbal patient communications. Incorporate a concise sentence regarding your portal into your standard office check-in process and reference it in appropriate prompts in your phone system.
Make a compelling case regarding the value of the portal. While it’s important to tell your patients that you have a portal, unless you make a strong case for why they should log into the portal, you won’t get traction. Explain that electronic refill requests are more efficient and can typically be turned around more quickly via the portal. Advise patients that they needn’t be inconvenienced by having to visit the office to retrieve reports or wait for them to arrive via mail — the portal allows them to access the information they need as soon as it’s available. Explain that they can conveniently make appointments, securely email providers, view records and more — all from the convenience of their home, on their own schedule.
Help patients get started. The registration process must be very easy and fast. If it’s not, you’ll lose most patients before they ever log in. The ease and speed of the process will be primarily driven by two factors: the thoroughness of your in-office process and the quality of the portal application. In terms of the in-office process, your team needs to consistently support patients in getting set up (e.g., use appropriate talking points for each patient interaction, distribute a go-live handout to each patient, etc.). However, the best in-office process will be ineffective if you're not using a portal that is properly designed to support a quick and simple go-live process. Evaluate your portal to see if it passes the test: Step into the shoes of your patients and go through the setup process as a patient and decide for yourself if the process is as straightforward and efficient as it should be.
Use the portal as your communication default. Designate your portal as the default method for day-to-day patient-practice interactions. For instance, provide routine test results and copies of records through the portal. Ask patients to use the portal to request prescription refills, schedule appointments, communicate regarding all non-urgent matters and pay balances.
As you look toward 2014 and grapple with the fact that you may have a steep hill to climb to become an effective MU2 patient engager, don't be discouraged. With some planning and focus, you'll be able to satisfy the requirements and may well begin to experience the benefits of technology-assisted patient engagement.
Stephen Snyder is president of MTBC, a provider of integrated practice management, revenue cycle management, and proprietary electronic health record software solutions to private physician offices and hospital-employed provider groups throughout the United States. He is the author of several articles on patient engagement and a coauthor of the recently published book, Health Care IT: The Essential Lawyer's Guide to Health Care Information Technology and the Law.
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