Improving patient engagement as part of the shift to value-based Medicine in the healthcare industry. Patient portals hold the key to improving the doctor-patient relationship and empowering patients to take charge of their own health. Primary care providers have embraced patient portals and industry adoption is steadily increasing. Many EHR vendors now include these portals within their software to ensure accurate data.
However specialty care providers find it more difficult to improve patient engagement for a few reasons. People normally visit a specialty care provider less often than their primary care physician. For instance, families may visit their dentist multiple times a year for checkups and cleaning. But no one visits an orthodontist or any other specialist unless they have a serious problem. Even in the case of monitoring chronic illnesses, a specialist may only meet the patient once or twice a year to check up on them.
Another reason is that many patient portals and software are designed to be general purpose by nature. Adapting them to the workflows of specialty care is more time consuming than it needs to be. The features that a patient looks for in a primary care portal will be completely different than what they expect to see from a specialty care provider. So how can you improve patient engagement if you are a specialty care provider?
Ensure your Patient Portal is Suitable for specialty Care
Some specialty care providers do not even have a patient portal thinking that their clients do not need health IT. But the reality is that their clients will probably use it if they have one. If you don’t already have a patient portal, the first step is to get one. If your clinic already has a patient portal, evaluate it against the needs of your patient population.
Ask patients if they know that you offer a portal for their use. Sometimes low portal usage happens simply because no one told them there is one! If you know that your patients use the portal, ask them about the features they like and dislike. What features do they think are missing? What can you do to improve their experience? If a patient registers on your portal, it is highly likely that they will come back to you when they have a similar problem.
Facilitate Access to Specialty Care
One of the biggest issues with specialty care is access and availability of doctors. Patients are referred to a specialist by their primary care physician. But in many cases, it can take days or even weeks to get an appointment. Having to make multiple calls just for a single appointment and the waiting time can be frustrating for patients.
Many portals come with the ability to schedule appointments online or even through text messages. You can offer these features to your clients and improve patient satisfaction.
Another way to cut down the waiting process is to streamline referral workflows. Quite often specialists have to evaluate patients to ensure that the person is the right fit for that type of care. Additionally the onboarding process will often have several steps for the patient to complete. Offer patients the option of completing these steps and uploading their medical records on the portal from the comfort of their home. This saves time and reduces frustration for everyone.
In some ways the strategies for health IT in specialty care are not that different from primary care settings. However there are some special considerations that do make a difference. Keep the needs of your patient population in mind and provide appropriate resources to improve patient engagement.