More than 90 percent of hospitals and other healthcare providers— including community health centers (CHCs) — have adopted patient portals in recent years, largely in an effort to boost patient engagement. Portals offer patients conveniences like the ability to schedule appointments, pay bills, download test results, request prescription refills, and send secure messages to their doctors from their computers, phones, or tablets, helping to make engagement with healthcare quicker and easier than ever.
While those benefits are important, they’re merely the starting point to true patient engagement in the CHC setting. Perhaps the most important technology a CHC could adopt is telehealth.
Eliminating Barriers via Telehealth
“This is part of the whole concept of starting to reach out and eliminate barriers to communication and connection,” said Craig Law, CEO of Delaware Health Net, in talking about telehealth. “If patients have to come into the office, they might lose an entire day’s work, so being able to check in with them periodically outside of a face-to-face encounter is a place where we’ll be able to make a difference.”
In 2020, Covid-19 has made the case for telehealth more compelling than ever. CHCs have seen patient visits drop by nearly half, suggesting that patients are sacrificing care and risking poorer health outcomes. Unfortunately, only about half of CHCs offer telehealth. The good news is that CHCs that weren’t previously able to offer telehealth may find it more financially feasible now, with at least 22 states’ Medicaid plans reimbursing it on par with in-person visits.
Leveraging Patients' Languages
CHCs and their patients also value portals that offer patient support in native languages. At Borrego Health, a federally qualified health center with locations throughout Southern California, clinics use a portal that can communicate in 22 languages, including Russian, Japanese, and Farsi. It can also support text messaging, according to Dr. Alfredo Ratniewski, Borrego’s executive chief medical officer.
Next Up: Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
A truly effective patient engagement platform today offers much more than texting, video, and language support, however. It employs artificial intelligence and machine learning to understand and address the full spectrum of the social determinants of patients’ health, allowing providers to see a more complete picture of each patient and develop better targeted treatment plans.
In the best of worlds, technology also offers CHCs predictive analytics8. Such data crunching can help providers anticipate–and ideally, prevent–patient health crises like self-harm or sepsis.
Of course a critical feature is an intuitive interface that makes the platform easy to use.
Make It Simple. Make It Meaningful.
“If someone has to go past a couple clicks, it’s not going to work,” says Michael Adcock, vice president, population health management and clinical operations at Centene Corp. He adds that any platform should also enable patients to learn about their chronic diseases in small, meaningful chunks, at a place and time that’s comfortable for them. Ideally, it would give patients positive feedback when they take steps to support their health.
“Otherwise, it’s just another buzzer going off.”
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