Hospitals: Why are you surprised nobody wants to use your patient portal?

It's a familiar routine for many patients: navigate to a hospital website and let the clicking begin. First locate the patient portal. Log in. Want to see X-rays from a past appointment? Log into a different portal. Hoping to pay a bill? Try again. Just looking to confirm an upcoming appointment? Go back to the first login and — oh, the server is down.

"Hospitals spend millions of dollars on technology, yet their websites look like they're from 2005," said Brian Davis, vice president of Scorpion Healthcare, the healthcare division of a Valencia, Calif.-based Internet marketing firm. For a little perspective, 2005 was when Facebook was still known as Thefacebook and sites like YouTube and Reddit first launched.

While hospitals remain rooted in the olden days of the World Wide Web, they are struggling to engage just 5 percent of patients required to meet meaningful use Stage 2 measures. As of November 2014, only 17 percent of hospitals successfully attested to MU Stage 2, according to CMS.

So what exactly is the problem?

Patients with digital access are accustomed to higher quality web experiences. They constantly engage with other brands online, and almost every other sector offers more reliable, fluid online experiences than many hospitals and health systems.

Mr. Davis pointed to three simple mistakes hospitals make in their approach to the patient portal.

1. Hospitals and health systems aren't selling what is in it for the consumer. Hospitals struggling to reach meaningful use requirements should reconsider the end goal of the patient portal. The technology is meant to create an easy path to engage patients in their health. Part of the problem is no one is directly responsible for connecting and engaging patients with the technology. IT teams are accountable for implementing EHRs and building patient portals, but not necessarily for adoption. Hospitals should think about the user experience and develop a tool that is useful and convenient for patients to increase adoption.

2. The website surrounding the patient portal is not up to snuff. Even a website from 2012 looks old, Mr. Davis says. It decreases the value of the EHR investment because it doesn't engage patients. Hospitals can start to improve their websites by simply keeping location, service and schedule information up to date, and make the website compatible with mobile devices. If you wouldn't put up with outdated information and technology on a restaurant site, an online banking account or a retail page, why should patients deal with it on your hospital's site?

3. The online experience does not inspire confidence in consumers. It is criticalto build a relationship with prospective and existing patients from start to finish, according to Mr. Davis. This is something even the nation's top health systems struggle with. Clunky patient portals often reroute to third-party sites with different URLs and even clunkier, outdated designs. Things as small as the color scheme, font choice and stock photos used make patients feel more or less wary when entering confidential information about themselves. It can be fixed with a simple "HTML skin," so patient portals reflect the online brand of a hospital's home page, Mr. Davis notes.

Seamless, up-to-date websites help build rapport with patients before asking them to cough up all their personal information on the patient portal. Otherwise, "It's like asking someone to marry you on the first date," he says.

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