Consumer engagement is becoming increasingly important for the health care industry, largely because of the wealth of access through various technologies to a wide array of data. One of the terms used to describe this engagement is health care consumerism, which is a concept referring to people proactively using trustworthy, relevant information and appropriate technology to make better-informed decisions about their options in the broadest sense, both within and outside the clinical setting.

Providers across the United States are promoting the use of patient portals to meet the needs of health care consumers for quick and easy access to their own medical information. This tool is a secure online website that gives patients convenient, 24-hour access to personal health information from anywhere with an internet connection.

By using a secure username and password, patients can view health information, including recent physician visits, discharge summaries, medications, immunizations, allergies and laboratory results.

Though not all patient portals are designed the same, most enable health care consumers to:

  • Securely message their physician(s)
  • Request prescription refills
  • Schedule non-urgent appointments
  • Check benefits and coverage
  • Update contact information
  • Make payments
  • View physician appointment summaries and notes
  • Download and complete forms
  • View educational materials
  • Conduct telehealth appointments

With the shift toward patient care, more providers and other health care organizations have begun to offer their own portals, while government incentive programs and regulations have influenced others to implement them, as well.

However, even though studies have consistently shown that patient portal usage has increased over time, the overall adoption rate of 25% is modest. Some research suggests that patients are more likely to adopt the portal if they hear provider testimony of the tool.

Obstacles to portal adoption

Overall, patient portals have demonstrated benefits by enabling the discovery of medical errors, improving adherence to medications and providing patient-provider communication. They may reduce in-person visits, trips to emergency departments and patient-provider telephone conversations.

As with many newer health care technologies, there are obstacles to increased patient use of portals. According to the American Medical Association, the top five reasons people skip using patient portals are:

  • Preference to speak directly with physician (70%)
  • No need to use the portal (57%)
  • No online medical record (32%)
  • No internet access (25%)
  • Privacy concerns (22%)

Some patients aren’t aware of what types of options are available on portals offered by their provider(s), while others cite the multiple-step registration process. A lot of patients register for a portal but don’t complete the process once they leave the provider’s office.

There are some social determinants of health (SDOH) elements to lack of patient portal usage, too. Some studies have shown that Black patients, older people and those whose primary insurance is Medicaid were less likely to use portals than white patients, younger people and those with other forms of insurance. Other research has found that patients with chronic health problems who were younger or white were more likely to use the patient portal.

Improved health outcomes

For providers and patients who do avail themselves of these portals, there are multiple advantages. For example, portals allow patients and providers to send and receive HIPAA-compliant, secure messages to reduce the need for phone conversations and give patients 24/7 access to their own health data. This enhanced patient-provider communication gives individuals more control over their health care and promotes better patient-physician relationships.

For health care provider staff members, patient portals streamline administrative tasks, including the patient registration process, and increase their efficiency. Provider office staff experience a notably lower call volume and have the ability to quickly deliver laboratory test results without repeated phone calls.

Engaging patients in the delivery of health care is a prime objective for many providers and can be achieved through the use of patient portals. These tools have been found to improve efficiency and engagement, with one study reporting that patients who establish a relationship with their providers via a patient portal are more likely to return to that provider.

Most importantly, patient portals enable providers to collect accurate and complete patient data, helping to improve health outcomes, especially in those with chronic health conditions. A study conducted by Kaiser Permanente of Southern California found that online engagement through patient portals can improve chronic disease management by almost 10%.

At the MLS Group of Companies, we provide intuitive and secure portals for both our clients and network of credentialed physician reviewers. MLS is recognized as a national independent review organization for our experience and commitment to providing exceptional client service and objective medical assessments, as well as the protections and swift turnaround times ensured through our secure client portal.

Perks of Patient Portals – for Both Patients and Providers