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A major part of Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use initiative was to increase levels of patient engagement by using on-site patient portals. One of the provisions mandated that more than five percent of unique patients seen by the portal in question must have viewed, stored, or transmitted their health information to a third party. The mandate was well intentioned, but in practice it represented a major stumbling block for providers.

Recent research has revealed some of the causes of those stumbles, and they’ve proved to be more complicated than many expected. Surveys with stakeholders reveal that the obstacles to achieving Stage 2 may have as much or more to do with user skepticism than the actual technology in play.

Of the doctors and nurses involved, there was a high level of agreement that the goals of Stage 2 could meaningfully improve patient engagement. But there was almost an equal level of trepidation about the effect that patient portals would have on their workflows. Debate persists whether ultimate management for these portals should be assigned to IT, or to fontline staff like nurses. Not surprisingly, nurses are less than enthusiastic about adding computer training to their list of responsibilities.

The research also revealed certain systemic problems with Stage 2 that could compromise the goals of meaningful use altogether. Right now, patient portals are manufacturer by several vendors, each with their own proprietary software. That does not present any issues when a patient’s care is limited to a single provider system, but when they are working within multiple systems located regionally, it creates fundamental interoperability issues.

Another unforeseen issue was how the specific requirement of Stage 2 to include an email component affected certain specialties disproportionately. For instance, the young patients of pediatricians almost universally have email. The much older patients of cardiologist and oncologists often don’t, and have poor technology skills in general.

There is a silver lining, however. The stated goal of patient engagement is to ultimately improve health outcomes, and in some cases it has been impressively successful. One hospital implemented a creative program directed at obesity patients and saw an 11 percent reduction in obesity related incidences after one year in use.

And so, it would seem like with so much of Meaningful Use, there are two steps forward for every two steps backward. What is clear though is that the goals of patient engagement are worthwhile, and with some cooperation throughout the industry, could become a reality. Find the staff you need to get the most out of your patient portals by contacting the recruiters at MedPartners.