In today’s modern health care environment, patients expect their physicians to have integrated, web-based solutions. There’s no reason why a patient should be able to order and pay for a pizza online, but not be able to pay their medical bills in a similar fashion.

Since the millennium, health care organizations have been steadily coming online, connecting with patients and other providers. Some of this innovation has been mandated by government regulation, while some of it has been the result of competition in the marketplace. In 2004, less than a quarter of office-based physicians had adopted an EHR system, according to The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The most recent data, from 2015, shows that this number has increased to 87 percent.

Competition surrounding patient portal features is still very much open. In 2014, only 18 percent of individual users had used a patient portal to send or receive a message from their health care provider. And only 64 percent of portals even had that function. Adding key features to a patient portal can increase patient engagement, and increase patient care.

Here are a few capabilities every patient engagement program should feature:

1. Online and in-office electronic patient intake forms
The No.1 feature that practices want to see in a modern patient portal is the ability for patients to complete the registration process themselves. A flexible patient portal allows new patients to register at home from a personal computer or connected device. This solution also does away with the traditional paper and clip-board method of in-office registration. Using a tablet or computer, patients can complete their registration forms as soon as they arrive for their appointment. This frees up administrative staff to focus on more urgent tasks.

2. Health history submission
When visiting the doctor, patients typically need to fill out a health history form. In most cases this is a sheet of paper secured to a clip board. Advanced offices may have made the switch to a tablet. Since this information needs to go into the computer system, there’s no reason why a patient shouldn’t be able to submit their health history online, prior to visiting the doctor. This could give the patient more face-to-face time with their provider and limit time spent in the waiting area.

3. Bill payment
Today, more people are making mobile payments via their smartphones. The U.S. Federal Reserve noted that 28 percent of all smartphone users have made a mobile payment within the past 12 months. When personal computers are taken into account, the number of households that use online bill payment increases to over 82 percent, according to Statista. Including this option in a patient portal could increase the frequency at which bills are paid.

4. Appointment reminders
Patient engagement should start before the individual even leaves his or her home. This is imperative, because missed appointments are costly. In fact, Healthcare Finance News reported that missed appointments cost the U.S. health care system over $150 billion each year. Sending reminders via phone, text or email could recapture some of that revenue as well as lead to the treatment of preventable diseases.

Patient Engaged with Laptop

5. Automated lab results
Patients waiting on lab results shouldn’t have to sit by their phones awaiting a call. Lab results are, after all, a sort of notification, much like those that apps push out on smartphones. When a user has an unread message, they get an unobtrusive notification. The same can be achieved within a patient portal. When lab results become available, they should be accessible online.

6. Health record viewing
Patients should be able to access their own health records. And yet only 63 percent of patient portals allow users to do so. By giving patients access, they have a greater chance of becoming more engaged in their health. According to International Business Times, preventable hospital stays account for one out of every $10 spent on hospital-based care nationwide. Increasing engagement is the first step toward actually preventing those cases.

7. Appointment scheduling
More and more, people are ditching their landlines in favor of smartphones. And yet it seems like fewer people actually use their phones to make calls. As The Atlantic noted in 2015, millennials especially seem perturbed about making calls – they’d rather send an instant message. Physicians’ offices need to catch up with the times. While it’s unlikely that doctors will be disconnecting their landlines anytime soon, they should give patients the option to schedule appointments online.

8. Secure messaging
When patients have questions following a recent visit to their physician, it is often difficult to get in touch with them. Going through a telephone tree and sitting on hold for a long time is demoralizing and many patients may just give up the effort. Secure messaging via a patient portal is simply better for everyone. If there is no emergency, patients can submit their question and the doctor can wait until he or she has a spare moment to sit down and write a response.

In the coming years, patient portals will become more intuitive and feature-rich. As millennials age, they will expect their health care providers to be online and accessible from anywhere on any device. Making improvements to your organization’s patient engagement platforms today will help secure your success tomorrow.