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    How to improve patient engagement through technology

    Primary care physician Frank Maselli, MD, is somewhat of an anomaly. That’s because his New York City-based practice has continued to gain in efficiency since implementing an electronic health record (EHR) system in 2001 and switching to a new vendor in 2009.

    What’s his secret? Patient engagement.

    By engaging patients with the EHR-based portal since 2010, Maselli’s practice has reduced patient phone calls, streamlined in-house workflows and decreased postal costs. The portal allows patients to view clinical information, schedule appointments, pay bills and ask for prescription refills or referrals. Patients can also download a mobile app to easily access the portal on their cell phones. 

    To date, 72% of Maselli’s patients have signed up for the portal, and collectively, they access it more than 3,000 times every month. 

    “It’s about creating the mindset that this is how the practice is going to function,” says Catherine Franzetti, BS, MBA, who, as chief operating officer of Maselli’s practice, was instrumental in launching the portal. “People buy into it, but you do need to educate everyone.”

    Whether through a portal or some other type of health information technology (HIT), patient engagement efforts are on the rise. That’s not surprising considering that an engaged patient is often one with better outcomes—something that is more important than ever for physicians in today’s value-based healthcare environment. 

    More than 70% of physicians say patient engagement is a top priority at their organization, according to the 2017 Patient Engagement Perspectives Study conducted by CDW, a technology consulting firm. This is up from 60% in 2016.

     

    Starting the journey toward patient engagement

    A 2015 study conducted by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), found that nearly 40% of 10 patients were offered electronic access to their EHRs in 2014. 

    It’s likely that this access is via portal technology, though the study doesn’t specify. This is up from 2013 when only 28% of patients reported being offered online access to their health records.

    When thinking about engagement, portals are a good place to start. That’s because many EHRs already include the functionality, so physicians don’t need to invest extra money, says Jan Oldenburg, FHIMSS, chief executive officer of Participatory Health Consulting, a company that helps physicians use digital health technology to engage patients. 

    Patients are also willing to use portals. Ninety-eight percent of patients feel comfortable communicating with providers via online portals, the CDW study found. “People are living more of their lives enhanced by digital tools,” says Oldenburg. “They expect the same kind of convenience in their interactions with the medical system.”

    Still, to be successful, practices must embrace a team effort to educate patients on how to use the portal. 

    At Maselli’s practice, receptionists collect each patient’s email address, phlebotomists encourage patients to log onto the portal to view their lab results and physicians remind patients that the portal is one of many methods of communication. The practice also develops fliers and other resources to educate patients about the portal and how to use it. 

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