Health IT

Want people to use your patient portal? Make sure it meets these four criteria

fix it repair potholeRecently on HIT Consultant, James Dias, founder and CEO of Wellbe, made the case that “patient engagement” is a cliche that should be abandoned. I’ve had that conversation before, but no one can come up with a term that’s concise but not insulting.

  • Patient empowerment – too woo woo and too episodic – being “empowered” constantly is exhausting
  • Patient activation – we are not devices, we are humans
  • Getting people to care about their health – accurate but too long
  • Helping people make good healthcare decisions – see above

Dias suggests “help” – which is accurate but too vague.

To help doctors make a shift to seeing things from the patient perspective, Dias suggests that they stop asking this question, “How can we get patients to do what we want?” and move to: “What’s in it for me?” I agree that the first question is the wrong one, but his replacement is not quite right either.

As a patient, I am not looking for drug samples or discounts or a Groupon for teeth whitening. I want easy access to my medical information and help making treatment decisions that work for me. I want to be a co-pilot, not a passenger and having access to my information is what I need to do that.


What Dias gets exactly right is what “help” from healthcare providers should look like:

Make it convenient for me to interact with you how and when I want to
For some people, it’s all about removing the middleman. Let me message my doctor directly by email. Let me access the information I need online. For others, they like the comfort of being able to call and speak to an expert when help is needed. Be sure you are catering to the needs of both audiences with multi-channel engagement.

Extend connections beyond the clinic or hospital
A 15-minute appointment with you once every six months is unlikely to keep me on track. I need ongoing guidance to follow my care plan once I’m at home on my own. Even if check-ins are automated by text, phone or email, it shows that you care and are still thinking of me. Let me link to support from caregivers or other patients like me when you are not around.

Give me the tools, resources and support I need to be successful
A folder full of paper is not enough. Instead, break down information into easily digestible pieces of information. And make the information actionable so I know what to do with it. If I don’t understand something, I’m not going to do it. Some people are text learners, others respond better to video or audio. Can you offer both?

Treat me like an unique individual
No one likes to be just one of the masses. How can you customize the patient experience to make me feel like a valued individual? This will strengthen our patient-provider relationship and increase the likelihood that I will follow your plan of care. Use my name, and please don’t make me repeat myself multiple times, whether in filling out paperwork or in conversation.

My recent patient portal experience missed the mark on all four of these elements by a mile – 10 miles even. EHR designers and healthcare providers should follow Dias’ advice to solve that problem.

Here is a visualization of this shift.

[Image from flickr user]

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