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Is your physician practice using a portal to communicate with your patients?

November 2014
BY REED TINSLEY, CPA, CVA, CFP, CHBC

Patient portals as a way of communicating with and to patients is now becoming more popular with patients and physicians. While patient portals require no small amount of IT expertise and over-sight to build and maintain; once established, they provide a platform for patient/practice communication.

The first step to success with patient portals is communication with patient on how to use and what they can expect from use. This communication is vital. How a patient perceives patient portals and their initial success in using will set the stage for a successful implementation and use of the patient portal. Included in patient portal information should be medical history, visit summaries, access to lab results, appointment capabilities, and secure email from provider to patient.

A patient can at their convenience log into patient portal and receive follow- up information from provider on lab results, view those results, look at pending appointments, make appointments, ask routine questions via email, look at statements on line, make payments, and get other routine information that previously required a phone call. Each time a patient calls the practice for information they could receive via the patient portal; the patient should be reminded that the information they have requested is available on the portal. Not all patients will or can utilize....but most patients will comply with expectations if initial experience successful.

Setting up the portal in a logical and easy to follow menu based way is a key to success. This is true not only for the patient, but also for the provider. If the providers experience with using the portal is logical and saves them time, they will use. If they find it cumbersome, difficult and takes too much time, they will not use. It’s that simple. Planning how the portal will look, how it will be populated, how implementation will be initiated and how both providers and patients will experience the value it will bring to practice is critical. Poor planning always leads to a poor experience.

Here are things you can do to create success with the patient portal:

Have all your staff fully trained on how the portal works and how to connect patients. To accomplish this, have your staff review the user manual and create a test patient record and corresponding patient portal account so the staff can see for themselves how it works. Be sure the staff is ready to answer questions both in person and while on the phone.

Create policies and procedures within your office about information you will push out to the portal and who is responsible for sending the information. Consider your office workflow and where using the portal might be more efficient than making phone calls. While all your patients may not be willing to use the portal, you could still save time each week by sending secure messages instead of making phone calls. For example, sharing with patients that their lab results came back normal.

Put up signs in your office promoting the new patient portal. Put the signs in your waiting room, exam rooms and by the receptionist counter. Also hand out flyers to your patients promoting the portal and the benefits of using it.

Consider adding a computer station in a public area of your office. Following a patient visit, have a staff member walk the patient through the setup of their account and personal PIN verification. Then the staff member can show the patient how to view their clinical summary while in the office. Each patient who views their information while in the office will count towards the Meaningful Use measure of having 5% of your patients view their records.

Mention your new patient portal on your office voice mail and encourage patients to ask the staff about setting up their own portal account. Be sure the staff answering the phone is prepared to answer questions the patients may have about the Patient Portal over the phone.

Be open with patients during their visit about the options for secure messaging with the doctor and what types of messages are appropriate for secure messaging versus making a call to the office. For example, questions about something discussed during the appointment, understanding lab results or medication refill requests may be appropriate for electronic messaging.

When patients come in with family members, include those family members in the discussion about your Patient Portal.

The ability to stay informed about what is happening with their parent, spouse or child will make the family member an advocate for the patient portal usage.

Technology is a tool....a useful and productive tool. An efficient patient portal will bring value and resources to your practice and patients. Design it well...... implement it carefully, use it as a tool. Remember we now live in a technology savvy world and patients are expecting this type of communication with their doctors!