A February 12 iHealthbeat article highlighted the explosive growth in the implementation of patient portals by physicians who are using EHRs, driven by the Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements. Dr. Michael Barr also recently reviewed the Stage 2 Meaningful Use Requirements, including the fact that practices will be dependent on 5% of their patients to view/download/transmit in order to qualify for the EHR incentive. According to the iHealthbeat article, data published by the American Academy of Family Physicians, as well as a recent KLAS research report, supports the growth in implementation of patient portals from 20% of family physicians using patient portals in 2010 to >50% of hospitals, health systems, or clinics with patient portals in the recently published data.
Similar data collected by AmericanEHR Partners strongly supports these findings. Between 2010–2012 we analyzed 4,300 EHR satisfaction surveys conducted with users of certified EHR systems. A total of 71% of overall survey responses were submitted by physicians in practices of 10 physicians or less. And 3,326 physicians submitted a response to the question, “Does your Practice Use a Patient Portal?.” In 2010, 20% of respondents stated that their practice used a patient portal. In 2012, this number had doubled to 40%. While this number is lower than that reported in the KLAS research study, the AmericanEHR Partners survey data is collected predominantly from physicians in small practices in which it is reasonable to expect a lower adoption rate of patient portals in comparison to hospitals and large health systems.
However, the fact that a patient portal has been implemented does not mean that practices are using the portal to communicate with patients. In order to successfully attest to the Stage 2 MU requirements, it is reasonable to expect that eligible providers will be highly motivated to become more adept at using patient portals. This also makes economic sense and will improve practice efficiency. Implementing a patient portal requires a significant change in workflow process and takes time to integrate effectively, particularly if the functionality being used extends beyond booking appointments, requesting medication renewals, and sending messages to providers. Using the airlines as an example, as practices begin to use patient portals more extensively, expect to see tasks that are typically carried out by practice staff transferred progressively to patients. For example, upon registration, automatically generating a secure access account for new patients so that they can pre-populate information such as current medications, family history, problem lists, as well as other care providers.
When used effectively, patient portals have the potential to reduce practice workload and increase the accuracy of information documented in the clinical record. As our data suggests, practices are increasingly implementing portals. A much smaller number are using the portals effectively — but that is just a matter of time and experience.