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Improving the Patient Experience, at Home and in the Hospital

Doctor Patient

One of the cornerstones of Meaningful Use is patient engagement, and some experts feel that healthcare reform can’t happen without a patient-centered health system. As health systems strive to meet Stage 2 requirements, there is now more focus than ever on the patient experience—and the technology that will enable it.

This post is the first of a two-part series focusing on issues surrounding the patient experience across two care settings. This week, we’ll be talking about patient-facing portals, which allow patients to access their health information from Electronic Health Records (EHRs), share it with their families and care team members, and in some cases perform other functions.

To get Stage 2 incentive payments, providers are required to have at least 5 percent of their patients using an online patient portal. Early innovators in the space, such as Microsoft HealthVault, had some initial traction. But health system–sponsored portals are quickly gaining ground, and it’s clear that the portal market is still wide open for developers and marketers.

Kaiser is a prime example. According to a January 2014 article in Healthcare IT News, the health system currently has almost half of its 9 million members using its patient portal. In addition to accessing their health information, patients are using it to refill prescriptions—and the results of a recent five-year study showed that this improved medication adherence among diabetes patients. As chronic diseases like diabetes continue to skyrocket, portals appear to have great promise in helping patients manage their conditions—improving outcomes along with the patient experience.

Another health delivery network seeing success with portals is Partners HealthCare System, a regional network in Massachusetts affiliated with over 20 primary care clinics. Their Patient Gateway, a secure online PHR, was designed to improve patient-provider communication. But a separate medications module, which patients could use to compare documented medications with drugs actually used, was proven to reduce potentially harmful medication errors.

Patient portals are also being used to schedule non-emergency appointments and follow-up visits, share information with specialists and pharmacists, and complete patient forms.

As the American population ages (approximately 10,000 baby boomers enter the Medicare system every day), the number of patients with complex care needs is also expected to skyrocket. And this means an influx of potential customers for marketers to address.

While it’s unfair to categorize these consumers as complete technological novices, they do prefer things to be simple. Companies developing tools that work with patient portals need to include a heavy educational component as part of their marketing efforts. Videos, tutorials, and online help resources could make all the difference in whether a solution succeeds.

Patients also need to be convinced that using portals will improve their lives—another challenge for marketers, but certainly not an insurmountable one. Strategies focusing on convenience worked well for brands like Apple and Amazon, and it could be a huge draw for an audience with mobility or transportation issues. Marketers also should communicate their messages at the point of care: when a patient enters the health plan, upon discharge from the hospital, or when their medication or treatment regimen changes. Timing is important because many consumers will only sign up when they have a compelling reason to do so. And marketers should also reach out to primary care physicians because their recommendations can carry a lot of weight in driving portal use.

After patients sign up, though, the user experience needs to keep them there. Marketers should work with portal developers to ensure the language, instructions, and user interface (UI) are engaging and patient-friendly. The techie/medical tone that pervades some portals is a turn-off for many laypeople: portal providers need to be aware of this and adjust their UI accordingly.

Is your company planning on marketing technology to work with a portal, or have plans to offer patient-facing solutions for the large and growing market of aging Americans? Leave a comment and tell us about it. And look for our follow-up post on the patient experience in the hospital later this month.

czphoto1Caroline Zelonka is a guest blogger for Kitterman Marketing Group. She is the former senior writer for White Space Healthcare Marketing and Publicis Dialog Healthcare Marketing Practice and has worked with Abbott, Baxter, Edifecs, LifeScan, Microsoft HealthVault, Ventus Medical, El Camino Hospital, Eisenhower Medical Center, and Swedish Medical Center.