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Insights for those starting, managing, and growing independent healthcare practices

How to ensure you meet patient portal expectations

Get strategies for meeting patient portal expectations, including ease of use, privacy, and timely access to medical data for enhanced patient engagement.

Front office healthcare professional shows patient how to use patient portal on tablet

At a Glance

  • Portals improve your patients’ healthcare experience by offering easy access to healthcare records, appointment scheduling, telehealth appointments, bill payment, and direct communication with providers.
  • Effective patient portals should be user-friendly, with a simple design, intuitive navigation, and seamless functionality across various devices.
  • To encourage and maintain engagement, providers should clearly communicate the benefits of the portal, promote signups through regular communication, and promptly respond to patient questions.

Do you have a patient portal for your healthcare practice?

Face-to-face interactions are still the hallmark of the healthcare industry, but they’re only part of the patient experience. 

Now, patients expect easy access to digital conveniences. They want to message their healthcare team, schedule appointments online, and view their medical records when convenient. 

That’s what patients want most. According to Tebra’s Patient Perspectives survey:

  • 41% of patients want online access to their health records
  • 26% want the option to book an appointment online
  • 23% want the option for telehealth appointments.
  • 22% want the ability to pay online

Adopting a patient portal that meets these expectations is critical to providing the best overall patient care.

What happens if you don’t have a portal or the one you have doesn’t meet patient expectations? It may influence patients’ decisions to continue working with your team. Also from Tebra’s Patient Perspectives survey, 22% of patients said they may switch providers for access to online health records and 18% for the option to book online. Plus, 52% of patients would prefer to pay their bills online.

This is especially true if you serve younger patients. At 28%, Gen Zers are the most likely to switch providers due to a lack of online conveniences like scheduling or billing.

Your patients seek portals that are functional but also intuitive, secure, and comprehensive. ”

It’s not just the presence of a patient portal that counts. It’s how it enhances the experience. Your patients seek portals that are functional but also intuitive, secure, and comprehensive. You need an easy-to-use patient portal that protects patients’ protected health information (PHI) and has all the digital features to deliver a top patient experience. 

A patient portal is more than a digital tool. It’s a critical component in patient care and satisfaction. Continue reading as we explore creating a portal that aligns with modern patients’ expectations for a seamless healthcare experience. 

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How do patient portals improve patient engagement?

Patient portals take time to implement. You need to adjust your workflows, spend time promoting it to customers (more on that later), and go through a period of adjustment. But it’s all worth it.

Engaged patients are more likely to return, have improved healthcare outcomes, recommend you to their friends and family, and leave positive reviews for your online practice. (Referrals and online reviews are the top ways patients find new independent physicians.)

Patient portals help engage patients in the following ways:

  • Empowers with education: Portals can give patients insights into their health records, tests, and prescriptions, ensuring they’re always up-to-date on their health and well-being. Moreover, you can also use portals to request patients fill out forms or questionnaires, put together customized health plans, and provide educational material on diagnoses, tests, and general wellness best practices. 
  • Encourages involvement: When patients can see and understand their test results, diagnoses, etc., they’re equipped to take more control over their health. Access to their records also lessens the burden on your team to provide this information manually or by phone constantly.
  • Facilitates streamlined communication: Portals open up direct lines of communication between patients and healthcare providers. Patients can easily ask questions, express concerns, and receive feedback from their healthcare team. This also creates a digital record for patients and healthcare professionals to refer to, fosters patient-physician trust, and gives patients a deeper understanding of their health.

Above all, portals connect patients with their healthcare team, providing them with a patient-centric experience while using their digital preferences.

What do patients expect from a patient portal?

When it comes to healthcare portals, patients have high expectations. They seek a blend of simplicity, functionality, and ironclad security of their personal health information (PHI). Ensuring that a patient portal is easy to use, feature-rich, and secure ensures you meet patient standards and elevate the entire patient experience.

Ease of use

A patient portal's usability hinges on its user experience (UX). A well-designed portal is intuitive, making it easy for patients — even your most technically challenged — to navigate and access information.

The portal should be clutter-free, with an aesthetically pleasing design that doesn’t overwhelm users. ”

You’ll notice how simple and streamlined the portal is when done well — not its design.

What should you look for when judging an easy-to-use patient portal? Here are some expectations to keep in mind.

  • Simple and clean design: The portal should be clutter-free, with an aesthetically pleasing design that doesn’t overwhelm users. An outdated or complicated interface can prevent patients from using the portal effectively — or at all.
  • Intuitive menus and features: Features and menus should be straightforward, catering to both tech-savvy and non-technical users. The goal is to ensure patients can find what they want with minimal effort. The fewer the menus and clicks it takes to get to what they’re looking for, the better.
  • Cross-device functionality: Patients use many devices, from phones to tablets to computers of all sizes. Ensure the portal functions seamlessly across all platforms. This includes making sure information isn’t cut off or difficult to read on smaller screens.
  • Streamlined access: Passwords are a frequent problem, especially in the healthcare industry. You need to balance security with functionality. If the portal is so secure your patients can’t get into it, they won’t bother using it. Consider implementing single sign-on (SSO) and other straightforward password creation processes to minimize sign-on troubles and enhance user accessibility.
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Top features

Patients look for certain features and functionality in a patient portal to meet their needs. Look beyond the standard functionalities to offer features that truly resonate with your patients.

  • Timely responses and access: A big benefit to a portal is timely access to information and communicating more quickly with the healthcare team. You’ll also want a portal that integrates with your electronic healthcare records system to ensure results and visit notes make it onto the portal without extra work from your team. Make sure patients understand the information provided in their records so there’s no cause for confusion or alarm. Misreading notes can cause undue stress for patients if not explained by their healthcare team beforehand.
  • Convenient scheduling and prescription refills: One of the most appreciated features is the ability to schedule appointments and request prescription refills online. This convenience eliminates the need for phone calls, reduces waiting times, and allows patients to manage their healthcare needs independently. As a bonus, features like automatic appointment reminders and prescription refill notifications enhance patient compliance and satisfaction.
  • Health management tools: Integrating health management tools like symptom trackers, personalized health tips, and wellness resources adds immense value to the patient portal. These tools help patients actively monitor their health conditions, understand their symptoms better, and follow through with their treatment plans.

Additional essential patient portal features

  • Collaborative features: Allowing patients to send their medical records to other providers fosters a more collaborative approach to healthcare. This can include sharing lab results, imaging reports, and medical histories to ensure seamless care continuity. Ensure patients are fully aware that the data they send may be unencrypted and the steps to take to protect their information. Similarly, features that enable family members or caregivers to access and view patient records can be crucial for coordinated care, especially for patients who require additional support.
  • Doctor-patient communication: A common concern among patients is being unable to reach their healthcare team promptly — whether waiting for potentially serious results or addressing an immediate problem. That makes direct and secure communication with doctors and healthcare staff extremely valuable for your patients. Features like direct messaging and telehealth options will facilitate closer collaboration with the team and ultimately improve the quality of care.

Incorporating these top features into a patient portal can significantly enhance the patient experience, making healthcare more accessible, coordinated, and patient-centric.

Security

Since you’re dealing with sensitive and protected health information, your patient portal must prioritize security. Several security aspects must be addressed to ensure comprehensive protection of patient data. Here are the critical security measures to safeguard your patients’ information.

  • HIPAA compliance: Adhering to HIPAA regulations is a non-negotiable. This compliance ensures that all PHI is handled with the utmost confidentiality and security. The portal should have safeguards to protect data from unauthorized access, breaches, and other security threats. For more information on HIPAA, read this comprehensive article.
  • Data encryption and secure storage: The portal you select should include robust encryption protocols for data in transit and at rest. This helps protect patient data and reassures them that their information is safe and handled with the highest security standards. If some features like sharing healthcare records are unencrypted, ensure patients are fully aware of what that means for their PHI.
  • Secure messaging: Communication between patients and healthcare providers through the portal must be encrypted and secure. That way, all conversations about treatment plans, symptoms, or other health concerns remain confidential and only accessible to authorized parties.

While patients might not ask for these specific security practices by name, a portal with these features will ensure their information is safe and protected.

How to encourage patients to use your new healthcare portal

Implementing and deploying a patient portal is only half the battle. Encouraging patients to adopt it and use it regularly is the other. While it may be a change they’ve been asking for, not everyone will be ready to jump in. Here are some tactics to boost patient portal adoption.

  • Announce the new portal: While you’re working behind the scenes to get it up and running, start teasing it with existing patients. Once it’s live, announce it through various channels via email, newsletters, social media, or in person. Put up signage in your office with QR codes and instructions on creating the account. Letting patients know that it exists is the first step.
  • Add signup information to existing communications: Add signup information to billing statements, appointment reminders, newsletters, and any other regular patient communication. It may seem redundant at first, but the more you share the information, the more people will take notice.
Implementing these tactics can lead to higher patient engagement in your healthcare portal, enhancing the patient experience and streamlining health management processes for your team. ”
  • Promote it via your phone systems: Add information about the portal through your phone system messages or voicemail. A simple “Did you know?” message could encourage patients to enroll while waiting to schedule an appointment on hold.
  • Make the benefits clear: Clearly communicate the advantages of the portal. Emphasize that it’s a free service that offers easier access to healthcare records, physician consultations, and prescription information. Also, assure them that their data is protected and secured.
  • Directly promote through physicians and staff: Encourage your physicians and staff to talk with patients about the portal. Include physical handouts like fliers or postcards, ensuring the message is hand-delivered. That way, the message isn’t lost in patients’ junk mail folders.
  • Bonus tip — offer staff incentives: Consider offering staff incentives for those with the most patients successfully enrolled in the portal. This encourages a proactive approach and can significantly increase sign-ups.

Implementing these tactics can lead to higher patient engagement in your healthcare portal, enhancing the patient experience and streamlining health management processes for your team.

Patient Perspectives Report

6 tips for educating patients on how to use patient portals

Even the easiest-to-use patient portal may stump a few of your nontechnical patients — and that’s okay. Here are some tips to ensure all patients can easily navigate your portal.

  1. Create how-to guides: Create a guide for your new patient portal that walks patients through the enrollment process and shows them how to use it. Your portal provider may even have these guides already written and ready for you to distribute.
  1. Share educational materials in various formats: Recognize that different patients have different learning preferences. Share video walkthroughs and visual infographics alongside written guides to cater to a broader audience.
  1. Offer in-person or virtual classes: Organize classes where patients can learn how to create accounts and use the portal’s most common features. While it may take a little more time upfront, your front office team will save time in the future.
  1. Incorporate portal education into routine calls: Train your staff to offer brief tutorials on portal use when patients call for services like prescription refills or appointment scheduling. This proactive approach can streamline future interactions for your staff.
  1. Provide one-on-one assistance: If you have the available staff, offer to sit down one-on-one with patients (particularly those unfamiliar with technology) immediately after their appointments to walk them through the sign-up process. Helping them one-on-one will reduce intimidation and confusion.
  1. Encourage questions and feedback: Create an environment where patients feel comfortable asking questions and providing feedback about the portal. They’ll be more likely to use it, and you’ll get feedback to improve the portal for your patients’ benefit.

Helping patients get familiar with the portal may initially slow things down, but it’ll save your team time and improve patient satisfaction in the long run.

How to maintain patient portal engagement

Keeping patients engaged with your portal is as important as getting them to sign up. Consistent engagement ensures the portal remains vital to your patients’ healthcare journey. Here are key strategies to maintain high levels of engagement.

  • Regular health content distribution: Use the portal to send out relevant health content. This can include wellness tips, updates on health topics, or reminders to schedule preventative care. Regular content keeps patients informed and engaged with the portal.
  • Prompt responses to messages: Aim to respond to patient messages within 24 hours. A quick response time shows patients that their concerns and questions are taken seriously, encouraging their continued use of the portal for communication.
  • Immediate technical support: Fix any technical issues promptly. If it seems like the portal is always down, patients will stop trying to use it. Maintaining the portal’s smooth operations is crucial for sustained use.
Implement a system for sending automatic reminders for patients to schedule routine appointments, refill their prescriptions, or get their vaccines. ”
  • Personalized patient reminders: Implement a system for sending automatic reminders for patients to schedule routine appointments, refill their prescriptions, or get their vaccines. Not only will patients engage with the portal more, but it can also improve their health management. Be sure to double-check those automated systems for accuracy — you don’t want to send the wrong advice to the wrong person.
  • Interactive features: Introduce interactive elements like health surveys or feedback forms. Engaging patients in their health education and seeking their input on the overall experience can increase their attachment to the platform.

Maintaining patient portal engagement is about providing a reliable, informative, and responsive digital experience. By focusing on these strategies, your portal will remain a valuable and regularly used resource for your patients.

Frequently asked questions about patient portals

Patient portals are an integral part of modern healthcare, but they often raise common questions about their implementation and use. Here are some frequently asked questions.

What should be done when setting up a patient portal to ensure it meets the needs of all patients? 

To ensure your portal meets your patients’ needs, take these key steps during implementation.

  1. Conduct a needs assessment
  2. Ensure accessibility and adherence to ADA guidelines
  3. Offer multilingual support
  4. Have a user-friendly design
  5. Ask for regular feedback and updates

What are the meaningful use requirements for patient portals?

The Medicare Promoting Interoperability Program applies to eligible hospitals and critical access hospitals that use certified EHR technology (CEHRT) to improve access to patient health records. 

Using a merit-based incentive payment system, Medicare scores participants on these 4 objectives:

  1. Electronic prescribing
  2. Health information exchange
  3. Provider to patient exchange
  4. Public health and clinical data exchange

Visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website for a full list of meaningful use requirements.

Should I charge for patient portal interactions? 

Typically, doctors don’t charge for patient portal interactions since its primary purpose is to enhance patient engagement and satisfaction. Charging for the portal will significantly decrease patient use, negating the need for one in the first place. Keeping it free ensures all patients have equal access to these essential services regardless of their financial situation. 

The benefits of increased patient engagement and efficiency outweigh the potential revenue generated from charging for portal access or doctor communication. ”

Additionally, the benefits of increased patient engagement and efficiency outweigh the potential revenue generated from charging for portal access or doctor communication. Evaluate the specific needs of your practice before making any decisions. 

The power of patient-centric portals

The true power of a well-designed patient portal lies in its ability to put patients at the center of their healthcare journey. Easy access to health information, simplified communication with healthcare providers, and offering a range of functionalities tailored to patient needs empowers individuals to be more involved in their healthcare management. When done well, portals can lead to better outcomes, increased satisfaction, and a stronger bond between healthcare providers and their patients.

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Rebecca Slawter

Rebecca Slawter is a seasoned freelance content and copywriter focusing on B2B SaaS. Bringing nearly a decade of experience, she leverages her skill set to create dynamic, compelling copy that resonates with her clients and their audiences. California-born and bred, she uses her love for writing to help global brands tell their story.

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Drew Sutton

Dr. Drew Sutton is a board-certified ENT physician. He has vast experience in treating all aspects of ENT, with particular interests in disorders of the ear and nasal and sinus disease. During his career, he started and managed an independent, single-specialty medical practice in a large metropolitan area.

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