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Increasing patient portal use: Lessons from my practice


Tim Dudley, MD describes how his patients use patient portals and how the lessons he's learn can apply to others.

I work with a patient who is on several medications, can’t always come in to see me, and needs a little more help than your average patient. At 85 years old, she is one of my vulnerable patients. Yet what if I told you that this 85-year-old patient, though not particularly tech-savvy, has embraced my practice’s patient portal?

This patient uses our portal to stay in touch, get alerts about medications, and other needed information and take control of her care. It may be hard to believe that we convinced an 85-year-old to use our portal, but we also managed to convince the majority of our patients; 80%of the patient population at my practice are on our portal.

This journey began eight years ago, when I adopted a portal to help manage phone calls and messages. I found that although many patients were tech-savvy, it wasn’t as easy as I thought to get them onto the portal, and while I saw some success, it was limited.

Related:Patient portals: Essential, but underused by physicians

Then a few years ago, I decided to go with a new vendor, who partnered with me to drive higher portal adoption. Having so many of my patients on the portal has provided numerous benefits, including:

Freeing up my time to spend with other patients-you may think that more communication would eat up more of my time, but in fact many of the questions that come through can be answered by other staff members.

Allowing patients to schedule appointments and check test results online, empowering them to take more control of their care.

Providing a quick and streamlined way to reach at-risk patients to remind them to make appointments, take their medications, schedule their flu shot or follow other medical counsel.

So how can a medical practice maximize portal adoption and reap these benefits?


NEXT: Six steps for maximizing portal adoption


The most important thing is to make sure patients have a compelling reason to use a portal. It may seem obvious, but if your practice aspires to achieve high rates of portal use it needs to ensure that patients derive value from the portal.

Nothing is worse for long-term adoption than urging patients to register for a portal and then providing them with a disappointing experience. A practice should try to ensure that it provides three major portal resources: lab results delivered online, secure messages with timely provider responses, and general support for portal questions or requests.

Related:Risk management strategies for patient portal use

Then, follow these six steps for maximizing portal adoption:

  • Develop a portal adoption policy: The policy should outline expectations for patient portal usage; part of my success stemmed from making portal registration mandatory for patients.

  • Offer online-only lab results delivery: After collecting patient email addresses, this service provides easier access to results, encourages patients to use the portal, and reduces administrative overhead.

  • Implement a streamlined portal training program: For both providers and non-clinical staff, a training program that emphasizes the major portal functionalities that the practice believes patients should use can go a long way to achieving patient buy-in.

  • Craft a strong message: You need a compelling portal marketing message that explains the major benefits of using a portal, tailored to a practice’s service and patient mix. Your vendor may be able to help you do this-my technology partner in fact, even did it on my behalf.

  • Support in-office registration: The ideal way to do this is by installing kiosks in the office or allowing patients to register for the portal from a registrar’s computer; these registrations produce vastly higher yields than automated e-mails sent to patients outside the office.

  • Train or hire on-premises support: These staff members can handle complicated technical questions or assuage concerns of reluctant patients, relieving registrars of the burden of handling these issues. This can be someone’s full-time responsibility, or assigned to an administrator with other duties.

I recognize that these six steps may be burdensome for your practice and you may not be in a position to implement all of them. If you’re not able to do all of them, I recommend focusing on three best practices-electronic lab results delivery, streamlined portal adoption training, and designation of a staff portal expert-these alone can lead to portal adoption well above average and may even help you convince some of your least tech savvy patients to get on board.


Tim Dudley, MD has more than 30 years of experience delivering medical care in both in-patient and out-patient settings. He practices at DTC Family Health practice in Greenwood Village, Colorado. Send your practice management questions to medec@advanstar.com.

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