Dr. Hebou Uses a Patient Portal to Improve Patient Participation and Health Care Quality
Dr. Annick Hebou, board certified in both internal medicine and infectious disease, is the medical director at MetroHealth, a community health clinic in Washington, D.C. MetroHealth serves approximately 1,000 patients. Most of the clinic’s patients are urban residents, and many have chronic conditions such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, and hypertension. To help care for this population, Dr. Hebou and her colleagues are using their electronic health record (EHR) system to increase patient engagement and improve health care quality.
The Challenge of Communicating with Patients
Before the EHR system, communication between patients and providers was limited; providers had to initiate conversations with their patients, and patients were not always engaged in their health or health care. Patients, for example, rarely asked their physicians about preventive screenings. Dr. Hebou knew MetroHealth needed a change and believed a patient portal system would encourage patient participation.
Four months after MetroHealth implemented its EHR system, Dr. Hebou helped the clinic roll out a patient portal. Initially, however, many of MetroHealth’s patients were “uninterested in the patient portal,” Dr. Hebou recalled. Only 4 to 5 percent of patients signed up. To increase enrollment, Dr. Hebou started an office-wide campaign to help patients understand the patient portal and its capabilities, posting fliers in waiting rooms, restrooms, and exam rooms. “The clinic also recruited all of its providers, including medical case coordinators, to talk to patients about the portal at all points of contact,” Dr. Hebou explained. The outreach is working. Approximately 20 to 35 percent of the patients are now signed up for the patient portal, and nearly all of the patients using the portal have had good things to say about the portal’s capabilities.
Using the Patient Portal to Improve Health Care Quality
The patient portal has a number of functions that help Dr. Hebou and MetroHealth encourage patient participation and improve health care quality. The patient portal:
- Encourages patient self-management: With the patient portal, MetroHealth’s patients can access care plans and clinical summaries, which provide MetroHealth’s patients with the information they need to understand and manage their health.
- Gives patients access to critical health information: The patient portal allows patients to obtain information about referrals, upcoming appointments, laboratory results, and self-care. This information helps patients understand and engage in their health care in between office visits.
- Sends vital reminders to patients: Portal-generated patient reminders about referrals, appointments, laboratory appointments, self-care, and medication refills help keep patients actively engaged in their health care.
“Patients and providers can benefit greatly from having access to the wealth of information on the patient portal and the EHR system,” Dr. Hebou explained. Since the majority of Dr. Hebou’s patients are managing chronic conditions, the patient portal is especially important. “Our patients are more proactive and empowered with regard to care management and preventive services,” Dr. Hebou said. As MetroHealth continues its Health IT journey, Dr. Hebou is gathering data on the patient portal, constantly looking for new ways to increase patient engagement and improve health care quality.