Q&A: Five ways how practices and groups can improve their patient portals.

By helping create patient-facing communications strategies, we position our medical clients as experts in their field and within their own hyper-local markets. This means communicating proactively with existing patients – not only to maintain good practice-patient relationships, but also for generating word-of-mouth referrals. We produce strategic and tactical marketing programs to develop stronger relationships with local and regional communities, physicians, hospitals and practices, generating specialist referrals, while also managing our client’s personal and professional reputations (online) – which matters when it comes to choosing a physician.

Here are 5 quick ways how to improve patient portals:

1) Describe some of the key benefits of having a patient portal for both the practice and the patients? Key benefits include being able to book an appointment online, inquire about tests and lab results, ask for follow-up appointments or ask questions the patient ‘forgot to ask’ at the doctor’s office.

2) What should a patient portal contain and how should a practice utilize a patient portal? It should always contain a look and feel like the practice itself – it’s an opportunity to create a ‘virtual bedside manner – and they should always have an email inquiry/messaging function to book appointments and links to all social media pages.

3) What can medical practitioners do to design a more user-friendly patient portal? Insure that patient needs are always at the front of user interface design and function; never use too much jargon and be careful never to post links to other medical posts/journal articles without ‘translating’ them for your specific patient audience.

4) Where do most patient portals fall short? What do most lack? Most lack an appointment setting capability, a direct email to the physician and any type of ‘good feeling’ about the practice. They fall short of being the informative and helpful sites that patients – particularly those from the practice itself – want to use to understand their condition better.

5) How can practices make better use of patient portals? What improvements would you suggest? There are many ways a portal can be made ‘better’ – for both patient and practice:

Going forward, there needs to be a better balance of “patient versus practice” on medical practice portals. Some things we are beginning to see now, but will be a necessity by the end of 2013/early 2014:

EHR integration including online records access, appointment scheduling and prescription refills
health education via website and integrated social channels
customer support beyond a phone number in the billing department
projection of the “personality” of practice (read: integrates with marketing and branding)

de-jargonization – but not dumbing down the medicine
an extension of the “bedside manner” via community involvement and development
(One could hope for price transparency … )

Social media will be important too — not a panacea but becoming an integral part of all practice marketing and virtual bedside manner

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