Expanding Patient Portal Use During COVID-19

By The SHSMD Team posted 28 days ago

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) already had a popular patient portal in place, long before the coronavirus crisis started. But once the public health emergency reared its head in Nashville, use of the system grew faster than they could have imagined.

On an average week, the institution might see 3,000 sign-ups for My Health at Vanderbilt; by mid-March, that number nearly tripled to almost 8,100. In the pediatrics population, enrollment increased more than sevenfold in one week to 1,500.

There are two major reasons for the recent surge, leaders believe. One is they’ve used the portal as patients’ entryway into telehealth services after Vanderbilt began moving every care encounter that could not wait 3-6 months onto the web. Plus, as it administered thousands of COVID-19 tests, VUMC required individuals to access the portal to receive their results. Users are able to see them on the web immediately, accompanied by instructions on next steps, if they’re positive for the virus.

“If we didn’t have this, we would have tons of very anxious patients waiting for tests for a long period of time,” said Terrell Smith, R.N., MSN, senior director of patient and family engagement. “This is absolutely without question the very best tool we have for active patient and family engagement,” she added.

Opening the Portal

Of course, VUMC did not simply open the virtual door to its portal and watch thousands of patients flood the system overnight. Rather, as COVID-19 cases picked up in its service area, leaders enacted a series of policy changes to make it easier to join remotely while maintaining social distancing.

It also helped that Vanderbilt has had some form of a patient portal since 2004 and undertook a wholesale revamp of the system recently. Numerous stakeholders were involved in the workgroup to devise this latest iteration — marketing, patient engagement, health IT and practicing physicians, just to name a few.

What’s Next

VUMC does not plan to rest on its laurels after hitting its ambitious goals early. They’ve been working for months on a Spanish-language version of My Health at Vanderbilt and are beginning to pilot it in one pediatric clinic. They’re also working on offering patients an early upfront estimate of how much their visit will cost, and Vanderbilt is running another pilot that incorporates OpenNotes into the system.

One key takeaway is to have your hospital’s patient portal fully integrated into how you deliver care before the next public health emergency.

More Resources

SHSMD members, read the full article: Vanderbilt Sees Near Tripling of Portal Traffic as Patients Seek Answers Amid Pandemic.

Nonmembers, for the full text of this article and more content like it on consumer experience, digital engagement and hospital and health system responses to COVID-19, or to share thoughts and validate ideas with peers, join SHSMD.

SHSMD’s comprehensive list of resources for communications, marketing, business development and planning professionals at hospital and health systems during the COVID-19 pandemic is open to members and nonmembers.

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