Insights: Enhance Health Engagement Through Patient Portal Use

Funding Overview

From May 2014 to April 2017, the Foundation supported and led a funding opportunity, Enhance Health Engagement through Patient Portal Use, with 14 Colorado safety-net clinics across the state. This funding opportunity was designed to increase individual and family engagement in their health through the use of patient portals at the clinic level. By focusing on people and process, as opposed to technology alone, this funding opportunity aimed to build a culture where patients could access and use health information to improve their health and health behaviors.

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Why We Supported This Work

In 2014, safety net practices across Colorado were able to leverage the federal Meaningful Use program (which provided financial incentives to improve care through the “meaningful use” of certified electronic health records) to launch patient portals. Under this program, health care providers were required to provide electronic access to patient health information and ensure that a portion of their patients log-on and view this information. The Foundation’s patient portal funding opportunity was intended to build upon this federal initiative, foster even higher levels of patient engagement and improve the health of Coloradans.

What Activities Were Implemented

Two cohorts of 14 safety net clinics were awarded one-year, non-renewable implementation grants and the Foundation contracted with a statewide portal integration partner – Full Circle Projects – to provide technical assistance, coaching and other resources to assist selected organizations with planning and implementation activities. The participating clinics had access to an online patient portal resource bank, populated by Full Circle Projects. The resource bank was enhanced by a peer learning community designed to spread effective and promising practices, share ideas and build a statewide support network.

As a way to extend resources to clinics beyond those which had participated in the funding opportunity, the Foundation partnered with Full Circle Projects to create a set of resources on our website. This Knowledge Center is designed to house resources related to planning and implementing patient portals, with the goal of providing practical and actionable information for clinics.

What Happened

All 14 participating clinics were able to launch or relaunch portals. The grant awards allowed the clinics to dedicate staff time to oversee the portal, which was a critical factor for success. In addition, the clinics benefited from the tailored technical assistance provided by Full Circle Projects. Their patient portal and health care clinic expertise enabled them to provide coaching to the clinics that addressed site-specific issues and questions. Nearly 90 percent of grantees met the basic benchmarks, while almost two-thirds doubled the Meaningful Use goal.

What We Learned

  • Successful patient portal implementation benefits from a dedicated staff person to provide oversight. This person can serve as champion of the portal, provide training, answer staff questions, and experiment with, solidify and document processes.
  • Technical assistance was important. Having a technical assistance provider with deep expertise, coupled with extensive planning processes for implementation within each organization, effectively supported the participating clinics - though they may have benefited from greater flexibility in utilization of assistance.
  • Participants desired more opportunities to connect with one another. The informal peer learning community primarily involved monthly webinars but in-person meetings may have been helpful.
  • Technical issues with portal vendors and software were a significant challenge. These site-dependent issues were often difficult to resolve due to the variation of software across the clinics.