Most days, there’s just not enough time to accomplish your daily task list. You work hard every day to keep up with scheduling and confirming appointments, managing patient outreach, updating patient records, billing and revenue management, (take a breath) online reputation management, monitoring social media platforms, and marketing your practice...and that is just the beginning.
No one can say you don’t bust your tail every day to make sure your practice runs efficiently and smoothly. What if there was a way for your patients to help lighten that load by being more engaged in their health? Wait…your patients can alleviate your workload? Yes, they can. That is…if your practice has a patient portal.
Just answering the phone to schedule appointments or answer questions can be very time-consuming, and there are so many other productive ways to spend your time. Patient portals can reduce phone time significantly. Dr. James Weiss of the JCMG said, “As doctors gained experience with the portal, they realized it was a very efficient way to communicate with patients. Phone encounters can be long because patients get talkative and ask a lot of questions. Using messaging, their questions are more pointed.”
What is a Patient Portal?
A patient portal is a secure, HIPAA compliant website that provides patients convenient access to their personal health information from anywhere they have Internet access. Patients access their portal using a secure username and password and are able to view their personal and family health information which could include:
- Personal contact information and health history
- Summaries and recent diagnoses and instructions given during doctor visits
- Current health benefits and coverage
- Past and current medications prescribed
- Immunization records and dates
- Allergies, medical conditions, or treatment plans
- Lab results
A growing number of physicians are turning to faster and easier methods of communication such as portals. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 41 percent of family practice physicians use patient portals for secure messaging, another 35 percent use them for patient education, and about one-third use them for prescribing medications and scheduling appointments.
Patient Portal Benefits for Providers and Their Staff
- Improved efficiency by communicating with patients via email instead of answering phone calls or playing phone tag with patients.
- Doctors (and patients) can review old information that could be relevant to current conditions, changes in diet that could have impacted their health, or the onset of other health concerns or complications.
- Providers can include a quick update the day of a patient’s appointment summarizing what was addressed or reiterating recommendations made during their visit, and documenting patient history.
- Using secure messaging to upload lab results cuts down significantly on phone calls that would otherwise be made to inform the patient of their results.
- Significantly reduces wasted phone time by giving both staff and provider the ability to respond to quick questions, requests for prescription refills, and appointment requests.
- Improves collections as patients have the convenience of paying their bills through the portal any time of day.
The more patients get connected with your practice through their own portal, the greater your success for meeting Meaningful Use requirements will be.
Patient Portal Benefits for Patients
- Patients can access archived information such as lab results, medical history, patient newsletters.
- Patients can request prescriptions and get them filled without having to call in.
- Basic health questions can be asked and concerns addressed more conveniently.
- Access to lab results as soon as they are entered.
- Convenient way to get questions answered directly by their provider without having to wait for a staff member to research or look into it, or having to worry about remembering to ask them during their upcoming visit.
- More timely response and more immediate access to care for patients that live in more rural areas and hours away from their providers.
- The ability to schedule appointments without having to call in.
- Convenient and secure way to pay their bills.
- Ability to send personal reminders to themselves for anniversaries or other important life events. (This gives your patients one more reason to visit your personalized portal on a regular basis.)
While communication via a patient portal is more convenient and much more efficient, and it is important to educate patients on the many ways they can use it, it is also important to set expectations of times of the day and reasons it is not appropriate to use it. For example, if it is 2 a.m. and a patient is having chest or severe abdominal pain, they should call the after-hours line or go straight to the ER rather than message you through their patient portal.
Patient portals are for everyday, non-emergency access to information or answers to basic health questions and concerns. It would also be a good idea to let patients know a reasonable time frame they can expect to be contacted back when they communicate through the portal.
Overall, the use of patient portals will improve patient relationship management and increase office efficiency, making your job a lot easier. It also encourages patients to be more proactive and involved in their care by working with their provider in a convenient way. So encouraging your patients to take advantage of the conveniences it offers should be at the top of your daily task list!
For suggestions on how to get your patients up to speed and more involved in their healthcare, read Transitioning Patients to Patient Portal Technology. If you don’t currently have patient portal technology and want information now, click here.