What Every Nurse Should Know About Patient Portals

What Every Nurse Should Know About Patient PortalsPatient portals have become far more common since we first wrote about them several years ago. Primarily because of Meaningful Use guidelines, hospitals and individual providers are adopting these web portals to provide two-way communications with patients. Stage 2 of Meaningful Use requires providers to demonstrate that at least five percent of patients “view, download, and transmit” their health information online and use secure electronic messaging to interact with clinicians. The idea is to enhance patient engagement with the care process. A portal ideally is a patient-centric tool that fosters better healthcare-related decisions, elevating the health status not only of the individual, but of the entire community.

Some hospitals and private practices are finding that patients are either not enrolling in the patient portal, or are not using it after enrolling. To be sure, there are barriers involved. Most patient portals are in English only, decreasing their adoption in settings where another language is common. Lower income patients may lack access to a computer or to the Internet, and older patients may have a generational resistance to using new technologies. Then there are structural barriers, in the form of poorly designed portals that are hard for the average user to navigate and make sense of. The easiest barrier to overcome, however, is general lack of knowledge in the patient population regarding what a patient portal is and what it can do.

As a nurse, you are in the perfect position to contribute to patient engagement, by encouraging patients to sign up for and use your employer’s patient portal. Here are some tips to help you be more persuasive and supportive of this valuable patient empowerment tool.

  • Create an account of your own so you know what your patients are experiencing. Not all portals have the same features. If you work in a hospital, the portal may focus on discharge instructions, medication lists, and test results. At a primary care practice, the portal may allow patients to ask for refills, schedule appointments, pay bills, and communicate health concerns to clinicians. If you’re unfamiliar with the portal, you won’t be comfortable explaining it to others.
  • Promote the portal at every patient interaction. When you’re going over discharge instructions, remind your patients that they can also access the information online. If you’re coordinating lab work, advise them that they’ll have access to the results online. Make it a point to point out exactly how each patient might best use the portal.
  • Describe the benefits, not just the features and functions. For example, instead of mentioning that the portal has online appointments, say “you can avoid a phone call and being on hold by scheduling your follow-up visit online, even when the office is closed.”
  • If you interact directly with patients via the portal, make sure you provide a positive experience. Answer questions promptly and courteously, or relay them to a physician when necessary.
  • Encourage older patients to use the portal. It’s easy to assume that certain patients are less tech-savvy than others. Yet studies show that patients with multiple chronic conditions are among those most likely to use (and benefit from) a patient portal, and this population tends to be over 60. 

Patient portals will only catch on if they are easy for the user to navigate and add value to the patient’s experience, in terms of efficiency and empowerment. Nurses with a specialty in informatics are well positioned to create and evaluate technological tools that benefit both patients and the health system as a whole.

Are you a tech-savvy nurse? Health care is in need of nurses who can analyze technologies from both the bedside and IT perspectives, to help create patient-centric tools. An online MSN degree in nursing informatics is the perfect way to improve your knowledge, skills, and value to your organization. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees.