An area where many physicians stumble with technology, says osteopathic physician Saroj Misra, is not using the patient portal to its fullest capacity; a feature which is built right into the EHR in most cases. Aside from being a meaningful-use requirement (patients must engage with their physicians through the patient portal) a portal can offload a good portion of the front-end work for staff and physicians — such as direct messaging with the physician and staff, prescription refill requests, scheduling and canceling appointments, and viewing lab and imaging results.
Also, interacting with the patient portal module of an EHR allows physicians to incrementally add in new technical capabilities, says Tom Giannulli, chief medical information officer for EHR vendor Kareo, helping them to take a step-wise approach to EHR use and implementation. "Physicians can incrementally add new capabilities to their clinical automation effort by learning and applying new functional modules that are available in any modern EHR," he says.
Despite the advantages of using a patient portal, medical practices say they struggle with encouraging patients to engage with their physicians online. In the 2015 Physicians Practice Technology Survey, 53percent of respondents said their practice has a patient portal, yet of that group, 63 percent said their greatest challenge was "getting patients to sign-up/use the portal."
Marissa Rogers, a family medicine residency program director at Genesys Regional Medical Center in Burton, Mich., says her clinic has an additional challenge when it comes to the portal: a large, inner-city patient population that doesn't have consistent access to computers.
"The hardest part [of portal implementation] is getting patients engaged with the portal. ... We can get the right percentage signed up and get them active in the portal. But keeping them engaged in it, relooking at things, or making sure they are checking on … labs or sending a message, that part is hard."