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St. Luke’s Patient Portals: The Doctor Will Email You Now

 St. Luke's Idaho Cardiology Associates (SLICA) has signed up more than 40 percent of its patients for myChart. To track the progress, a chart is kept in the employee break room and employees are given incentives to encourage them to sign up patients.
March 25, 2014

BOISE, Idaho - Over the past three years, St. Luke’s has invested more than $100 million toward completion of its new electronic medical record system (EMR) called myStLuke’s.

Once complete, the EMR will provide an overall picture of your health to all of your care providers within St. Luke’s Health System, both at the doctor’s office and in the hospital. St. Luke’s EMR system also helps doctors, nurses, and other healthcare personnel to communicate with one another about your health status and healthcare needs.

Not only does the EMR help ensure the right care at the right place at the right time for every patient, it helps doctors track chronic health conditions and trends that impact many people in our communities. A good example is diabetes, which affects nearly 10 percent of all Idahoans. Using tools within the EMR, care providers can make sure they’re following the best medical practices for diabetic patients.

A key component of the EMR is the ability to offer patients secure, online access to their lab results, current medications, allergies, immunizations, and current health issues through an online patient portal called myChart. And, the patient portal email feature makes it easy for patients to communicate with their care provider, when and where it’s convenient for them.

“The patient portal offers a convenient and cost effective way for patients to track their own health and to communicate with their provider,” said Dr. Marc Chasin, St. Luke’s Health System chief information officer. “St. Luke’s EMR is all about patients: helping them, empowering them and ensuring they feel as safe while allowing our health care providers to deliver the highest level of care possible.”

Because St. Luke’s hasn’t fully completed EMR implementation, not all patients have access yet to myChart. And in the Magic Valley, patients are still on a separate EMR, but they do have access to a different patient portal that allows for similar access.

The health system goal was to have a least 30 percent of patients signed up. Chasin estimates that there are currently 74,000 active users of myChart, which represents nearly 35 percent of St. Luke's patients.  The ongoing cost to operate myChart is minimal at only $2.35 a patient per year, which is used to cover the software licensing costs.

No more phone tag – and patients love it! Life can be hectic, and waiting for a phone call from your doctor can just add to the stress. Making a patient's experience the best it can be is the reason St. Luke’s is so committed to signing up as many people for the portal as it can. And nobody does it better than the medical assistants at St. Luke’s Idaho Cardiology Associates (SLICA).

Tiffany Oswald, a registered medical assistant at SLICA, is excited about the great progress their clinic has made over the past year signing patients up for myChart, the patient portal associated with the St. Luke’s Treasure Valley, McCall, and Wood River EMR.

“A year ago, we were well behind the organization’s goal to sign up 30 percent of our total patient population for myChart,” Oswald said. “Today, we’re nearing 40 percent!”

Efficiency and improvement in patient care are what drive the Boise and Meridian SLICA clinics’ efforts. They started with an initiative to have each of their 13 medical assistants sign up 10 patients in a month. When this was readily accomplished, they thought, “Why stop there?” and kept the momentum going. Now, each exam room features a step-by-step sign-up guide that makes the enrollment process easy and front-of-mind.

This early success has led to a healthy competition among the SLICA medical assistants. The first medical assistant to hit 10 sign-ups each month gets to leave an hour early on a low-census Friday. “They love that incentive,” Oswald says. “Sometimes there’s a race to see who can get their sheet on my desk first!”

It’s also a friendly competition. The medical assistants at SLICA’s Boise and Meridian clinics call each other regularly to ask how many sign ups they have for the month, and offer up potential sign-ups to those who need them in order to make their 10 per month quota.

The “Queen of myChart” According to Oswald, there’s a real knack to signing patients up. She says that SLICA’s “queen of myChart sign-ups is Janelle Shoemaker.”

What’s her secret for having the most patients signed up out of all the medical assistants at SLICA?

“I don’t really ask patients if they want myChart,” says Shoemaker. “I say, ‘Let’s get you signed up!’ and I walk them through the process.”

If the patient doesn’t have a computer or Internet access, she explains how they can give proxy to a family member or use the public library. If they have a smart phone, she shows them where to download the myChart app.

It takes less than a minute to sign a patient up for myChart, and Shoemaker is glad to add this task to her responsibilities, which also include weighing patients, getting them settled in an exam room and taking their vital signs such as blood pressure and pulse rate. All medical assistants embrace the opportunity to sign patients up because “It makes our life easier. With myChart, communication is more efficient. We’re not playing phone tag with patients or providers,” says Shoemaker. “Overall, it’s great for patient care.”

Patients on myChart can email their providers with questions, and check their lab results within three or four days instead of waiting for a phone call. Medical assistants make sure to remind patients not to email providers when they have an urgent issue; that’s when a phone call is very important.

Another key to her sign-up success? “I tell my patients that I use myChart,” says Shoemaker. “And that really helps.”

Celebrating success As of March 5, SLICA had reached 1,645 sign-ups, or about 40 percent of their patients, with a next goal of 2,000, which they expect to hit early this summer. Part of their success comes from reaching out to patients beyond the clinic walls.

“We also do sign-ups when we call patients back to answer questions or see how they’re doing,” says Oswald. “We walk them through the process over the phone.”

To help staff remember how easy it is to sign up patients, a step-by-step guide is posted in every exam room.

Each milestone is celebrated. “Last month, we did Wii bowling in one of the clinics, and our next celebration will be an ice cream social,” Oswald said. “It’s important to keep (the celebrations) simple and clinic-based” so everyone can participate.

What about the doctors? Yvonne Hardman, a registered nurse with SLICA, admits that “at first our providers were nervous about using myChart,” because there were so many unknowns. “But now many of our doctors and other providers are really engaged and using it. Some of the doctors use their RN or MA as a liaison to answer email questions, and we often send patient education materials (such as smoking cessation information) via email.”

The positive attitude toward the patient portal is spreading fast among St. Luke’s providers across our health system. A good example is Dr. Caitlin Gufstafson, a family practice physician in McCall, who says, “I appreciate the convenience of communicating with patients with the messaging option and providing reassurance about their health when an office visit isn’t necessary.”

Spreading the message of patient portals throughout the region

While SLICA is leading the way in the Treasure Valley with myChart signups, similar success stories are playing out across the region. At St. Luke's Wood River, employees are taking a personal approach in order to encourage signups.  Norma Quinonez, a patient business associate for St. Luke's Clinic Internal Medicine in Ketchum, takes her laptop and walks throughout the clinic signing people up.  That personal touch has helped Wood River sign up more than 25 percent of its patients so far.

In the Magic Valley, enthusiasm for the patient portal is also growing. Last week, thanks to a strong showing at the Jerome Health Fair where more than 165 patients signed up, Magic Valley has now topped more than 40 percent of its patients who are now accessing their medical records online.  To find out more about the Magic Valley patient portal, click here.

Since launching their portal six months ago, St. Luke's Magic Valley and St. Luke's Jerome have signed up 40% of their clinic patients for the portal!


Signing up is so easy that even Maxwell Moose can do it! Click the photo below to watch how he signed up for myChart.

How to sign up for the patient portal

In the Treasure Valley, Wood River Valley, and McCall

  • If you go to St. Luke’s in the Treasure Valley or Wood River Valley for your healthcare needs and you didn’t receive an activation code at your last clinic or hospital visit, simply call your doctor’s office and ask for an activation code, or call (208) 381-9000 and ask that a copy of your activation code to be mailed to you. Once you have your activation code, log on to myChart and click the “Sign Up Now” link. Enter your myChart activation code exactly as it appears to complete the sign-up process.
  • For myChart assistance, email [email protected] or call (208) 381-9000.
In the Magic Valley
  • If you go to St. Luke’s in the Magic Valley and haven’t received an activation code or have questions, check with your doctor’s office or call (208) 814-0091 or toll-free at 1-855-890-3402. Then to go to activate your account.
For patient portal support in the Magic Valley, email [email protected] or call (208) 814-0091 or toll-free at 1-855-890-3402.