Online electronic health record (EHR) portals have been the focus of a love/hate relationship with patients and providers alike.
Patients often love them because they provide anywhere, anytime access to health data and fit well into consumers’ increasingly mobile lifestyles. Chiropractors have also found the technology useful as a way to better engage with patients and provide information on demand without further stressing their already lean staffing resources.
There are some downsides, though, and DCs should understand where pitfalls lurk in the EHR portal landscape. Increased access to data doesn’t always translate into a good understanding of the clinical information that’s on tap, leading to confused, sometimes frustrated patients.
If not managed carefully, DCs may also find that patients’ use of online portals creates a relationship chasm that must be bridged with more quality interactions. The good news is that, with a bit of planning and some ongoing communication, DCs can often avoid the pitfalls and help patients have a better digital experience.
Embrace the upside of a patient portal
One big benefit behind a portal is the ability of DCs to boost engagement with their patients. With the tight schedules most care providers run, it’s rare that they’re able to spend as much time as they like with every patient in the practice. Portals can help to fill those gaps, acting as a surrogate for face-to-face interactions when patients’ needs are less intensive, such as when they want to review recent routine lab tests or schedule an appointment.
Portal use may also support the push toward more accurate and up-to-date patient data. Patients that are able to conduct regular reviews of their health information can more quickly and easily spot errors and get them corrected. Because a well-designed portal enables patients to keep an eye on the accuracy and completeness of their data, proactive DCs should look for a platform that makes the patients’ online experience as seamless as possible. Once the technology has been deployed, patients can be encouraged during office visits or through e-mailed newsletters to sign up and make use of the new digital resources.
In addition, with the consumerization of healthcare in full swing, EHR portals allow patients to be better, more informed users DCs’ services. Through the use of portals, patients are able to more closely monitor their spending and utilization of the care that is available to them. Because they can quickly access their data online at their convenience, they can make better decisions and contribute to more successful outcomes.
Plan around the potential pitfalls
Unfortunately, there are some drawbacks to patients’ use of these portals. For example, complicated medical language and raw data lacking some explanatory context could leave patients without a clear understanding of what they’re seeing when accessing lab results and other information. Confusion may turn into frustration or fear if patients aren’t able to make sense of their results or if they worry their lab numbers spell trouble.
If a DC’s explanation of what the data actually means is absent, patients could feel they’ve been left out in the cold. By offering a frame of reference during the initial exam, such as additional detail about normal test ranges, providers may reduce the concerns patients experience later when they receive their results online.
Perceived lack of interaction
Patients who prefer a higher-touch experience might resent the use of a portal if they feel the DC is trying to shuffle them off to a machine rather than providing the kind of personal care they want and expect. Assessing each patient’s preferences can help DCs determine which individuals are likely to embrace the addition of a portal and which patients may be hesitant to move toward more digital interactions. Messaging around portal use can then be targeted in a way that doesn’t erode the close partnership many DCs have worked hard to cultivate with their patients.
Cyber attacks and data breaches affecting EHR portals aren’t common, but they’ve been known to happen. The practice’s reputation could take a hit if patient data flowing through the portal is compromised, so DCs should continue to be mindful to partner with trusted vendors whenever PHI is involved.
It’s also a good idea to periodically remind patients about safe online hygiene. For instance, a quarterly e-mail or notice posted on the portal landing page can be an effective way to educate patients about the need to follow good practices around password use.