According to a study at the Pew Research Center, 39% of Americans provide health care support for a dependent. Of those users, 59% stated that online resources have been very helpful. Physicians on top of trending healthcare information technology know that the key to high patient engagement lies in the effective use of a patient portal. To encourage higher levels of patient engagement, portals have developed features that allow someone to manage another user’s portal by granting “proxy access” to that caregiver. The most common caregiver with proxy access is a parent managing their child’s account. Other examples include adult children taking care of their elderly parents or caregivers of mentally disabled patients. For the competitive practice, there is a unique opportunity to target the caregiver demographic. Below are two challenges inherent to the caregiver role that you should proactively consider when implementing proxy access in your patient portal.
With the imperative need for PHI (protected health information) confidentiality, portals need to provide a variety of security measures to ensure caregiver authenticity. One method is a two-step login process involving a username and password, with a follow-up security question. Another method requires entering a unique PIN sent as an SMS to the caregiver’s phone. Currently, most organizations require caregivers to sign a consent form before they receive medical record access. Providing a variety of security clearances will ensure that the correct user is accessing the dependent’s profile.
Also, portals must clearly demonstrate which user (the caregiver or the dependent) is communicating from within the portal. For example, if a caregiver logs in to the dependent’s portal and updates the dependent’s basic information, this process must reflect that the caregiver is acting on behalf of the dependent. Especially when communicating with providers, it must be evident that the caregiver (on behalf of the dependent) is the operating user in the portal. This transparency is an essential piece to further ensure caregiver authenticity.
Another challenge physicians face is allowing the dependent to determine how much of their PHI their caregiver can see. For example, children in their teens may use their patient portals to make doctor’s appointments and view test results involving sexual health or substance abuse, but they may not want their parents to see this information. And vice versa, elderly patients may not feel comfortable giving their children total access to their medical history. Mentally disabled patients are often cared for by healthcare professionals who are not members of their family, so they may only want to disclose pertinent patient data. Practices should consider allowing dependents to filter which information their caregiver can view; by customizing caregiver access, portals allow patients to feel secure in the confidentiality and privacy of their medical records. This increased empowerment will ultimately foster higher patient engagement.
Today, physicians have the unique opportunity to aid and encourage high patient activation within the caregiver-dependent relationship. The determining factor that will set portal-using practices apart will be their ability to navigate these hurdles proactively.