Marketing Predicted the Failure of Meaningful Use Stage II Patient Engagement

The following is a guest post by John Sung Kim, General Manager of DoctorBase, a Kareo Company.
John Sung Kim
Marketers knew far ahead of CMS and the ONC that certain components of Meaningful Use Stage 2 (MU2) were simply not attainable. Thankfully, one of the original components of MU2, whereby 5% of a provider’s patients have to exchange secure messages, is now being relaxed to the simple ability to have secure messaging as an available option for patients.

When MU2 was first drafted, the original threshold was 10%, which was met with a wave of criticism from vendors, analysts, and providers who pointed out that forcing patients to adopt a new technology was outside of a provider’s control.

Yet, even the subsequently reduced 5% goal was difficult to achieve for most organizations, especially smaller independent practices that were dealing with a confluence of changing competitive markets, new billing codes, and mandated technological updates. Any digital marketer with two years of experience running ad campaigns could have told us this would become the case.

There were several marketing related reasons why 5% (or 1 in 20 patients) was simply not achievable for many practices, even with many modern EHR systems:

  • Activation Energy: Most patient portals are too difficult to register for. It’s a well known marketing rule that the number of fields a user has to fill in to register for a service is inversely proportional to the completion rate. Marketers call the amount of effort that users are required to obtain a desired action on a computer or mobile device the “activation energy.” Quite simply, the activation energy required to register for most patient portals is too high.
  • The Funnel: The most common way that patients look for the address or phone number of a provider is to enter permutations of the doctor’s name in search engines. This is what marketers call the “top of the funnel.” If a patient portal is not optimized for search engines (very few are) patients won’t enter the funnel, in other words—what can’t be seen at the top of a Google search result simply doesn’t exist to the patient.
  • Call to Action: Any modern digital marketing campaign has a “Call to Action,” commonly referred to as a CTA. In healthcare, it’s rare that any brochure, office sign, or practice website has a CTA asking patients to engage or interact, and that’s a shame since colorful, visible (and often large) buttons directing the user to click have interaction rates that are often on an order of magnitude greater than collateral without a clear CTA.
  • Email Marketing: Having worked in both digital health and digital marketing, I know how important collecting email addresses of users is, and how poorly most practices actually do this in a routine fashion. A “typical” small or group practice will have no more than 20% to 25% of their patients’ email addresses. So when a marketer does the math of registering 5% of their users through emails, the true number becomes much larger. For example, a practice with 20% of their panel with an email address would need a 25% engagement rate—not 5%! That’s an incredibly aggressive target, even for the biggest brands and best marketers.

Is it time for the Office of the National Coordinator and CMS to start hiring more marketers?

About John Sung Kim
John Sung Kim is the founder and founding CEO of Five9 (NASDAQ: FIVN) widely recognized as the leading company in the contact center industry. He’s acted as a consultant to numerous startups including LGC Wireless (acquired by ADC), Qualys (NASDAQ: QLYS), RingCentral (NYSE: RNG), Odesk (merger w/ Elance), 6connect (funded by Hummer Winblad) and M5 Networks (acquired by ShoreTel). Follow him @JohnSungKim.

Kareo, the leading provider of cloud-based software and services for independent medical practices, is a sponsor of EMR and EHR. Find out more about Kareo’s award-winning solutions at

About the author

Guest Author

Guest Author


  • It’s astounding to me how true #2 and #3 are. Almost every provider I’ve seen doesn’t even try to push people to their portal. I wonder if it’s as simple as bureaucratic process in their web publishing flow slowing down their design team—or total lack of UX/Marketing people touching the process altogether.

    Whatever the case, my experience and user research matches John’s: the providers are not even touching the top of the funnel.

  • Brian,
    It’s fun to see the HIT and HITMC community overlap.

    It is astounding, isn’t it? I think it goes back to the goals people have (or don’t have).

  • […] Any good marketer would have known that Meaningful Use stage 2 would be a challenge for many small practices. It isn’t because getting patients more engaged is a bad thing or because patients don’t want to use a patient portal. It is more because a project like getting patients to your portal is not a clinical effort. It is a marketing effort. And marketing is a skill that requires a certain amount of strategy. I recently talked about this in a post on EMR and EHR. […]

Click here to post a comment