All too often, healthcare providers make huge investments in money, effort, and time to deploy a patient portal, only to see adoption sputter in the single digits, and fail see to further momentum. Meaningful Use standards only serve to raise the stakes of these disappointing adoption rates. While disciplined patient adoption planning should be part of your portal rollout from day one, technical challenges and internal change management typically receive the largest slice of the pie in invested effort, distracting from a planful effort to bring end users on board. But even if you shortchanged yourself in adoption planning at first, you can still take action to break your current patient portal adoption barriers and boost the numbers.
Be patient-centric: Our internal research at Syncresis and much corroborating third-party data show that patients look for five features on their patient portal: 1) making appointments, 2) secure messaging with providers, 3) prescription refills, 4) lab and test results, and 5) online bill pay. Nearly every portal on the market today provides these capabilities. So, you can do one of two things. If you’ve already deployed these, make them the center of your marketing and communication to patients. Or, if you have not, double down on your efforts to make them work within your organization and use the launch of the new features to piggyback promotion of the entire portal to patients.
Be proactive: Sometimes, patient portals start with a “soft launch” as providers sit back to observe unexpected kinks with the technology or with internal processes. But then they never take off into a full blast of patient communication. Once your portal effort is ready to take off, you can boost it with communication in every channel. While this seems obvious enough, there are still many proponents of a “build it and they will come” mentality. Remember that your patients are drowning in messages, if not from you, then from every other brand that wants to get their attention. Awareness is much tougher to achieve than you might think. Portal communication strategies have the highest impact when they truly target every possible awareness channel. So, advertise your portal availability through mass media buys (broadcast, print, and online), in your social media channels, on your website, on your phone system and in your call center, in your waiting rooms and other public areas, and in exam rooms.
Be helpful: You have many opportunities of direct, person-to-person patient interaction, where you can hold patients’ hands and have them register right now. Here’s just a small handful of touchpoints where practitioners and staff can win over a new adopter: in your phone system menus, in your call center/scheduling/office staff interactions by phone, in your waiting room (either at reception or at kiosks/tablets), when describing next steps after an examination or test, and during patient checkout. Try this magic formula with all personnel who interact with patients: “I’d be happy to help you with that, and I can also help you get set up right now to do that online whenever you like.” The goal is to sign them up right there, while interacting with you.
Be transparent: While this adoption booster may sound counterintuitive, you’d be surprised by the extent to which patients (especially satisfied patients) are willing to help you help them if they understand the reason why. This willingness extends to patient portal usage, too. If you help them understand the business reasons behind your portal rollout, many will get onboard because of your appeal to them. Let patients know that the portal lets your staff work better with them. Tell patients that the portal helps your processes work more smoothly so that you all can focus on patient needs. Let them in on the fact that the patient portal reduces bureaucracy and helps control the cost of healthcare. In other words, weave both altruism and self-interest into your portal messaging.
In summary, when looking at patient portal adoption barriers, keep in mind that behaviors have four ingredients. In the work of leading behavioral psychologist B. J. Fogg, behavior is the result of motivation, ability, and triggers. In our work at Syncresis, we break motivation down further into self-interest and altruism, making a total of four. But in any case, when looking to change how patients behave, whether in administrative scenarios like your portal or in care scenarios where you need them to engage in their health, working these models is critical for achieving change.