Patient Portals

January 14, 2010

Does your medical practice have a Web site? If so, you are on your way to building a patient portal.

Does your medical practice have a Web site? If so, you’re on your way to building a patient portal! The possibilities are endless: interactive forms for patient registration and medical histories; offloading incoming phone calls; scheduling appointments; requesting prescription refills; and accessing diagnostic test results, all online. Further, a component of the meaningful use draft criteria for EHR incentives is the ability to give patients electronic access to their health records. A patient portal is one way to do that, so these could soon become the norm for practices.

Inform your patients about your “newest patient service” while they are listening to your on-hold phone message. You can install a computer kiosk in your reception area so that patients without Internet access can use your patient portal to complete their registration process. You’ll meet your return on investment in just months if you promote online interactive services in your practice.

What can a patient portal do for your practice? Can it reduce incoming phone calls? Can it help generate revenue? It can do both of these, and more. An interactive portal can provide your patients with all of the following self-service capabilities:

Self-administered health risk assessment. Invite your patients to complete a risk-assessment questionnaire in preparation for their annual exam. This has the added benefit of encouraging those patients who are delinquent in returning annually to return to your practice sooner rather than later (increasing revenue-generating visits).

Online appointment scheduling. Provide a mechanism for patients to request appointments online. Current technologies support secure access to confidential patient information and can truly improve your service levels to patients.

Prescription refills and test results. Being able to request prescription refills and test results online can take a huge burden off your staff. Think about the number of patients who call your office to check on test results. Now think about the number of patients who have to call back because no one has answered them? Eliminate those calls and your staff is now free to spend that time on other, more important tasks. Plus, your patients are happier because they can view their test results and get prescriptions refilled faster and without the hassle of calling.

Patient satisfaction surveys. Use your patient portal to administer your patient satisfaction surveys. These surveys can be costly, but when performed online, the costs drop significantly. And, an online survey can be easily customized to a new or special issue your practice is interested in investigating.

Community education and marketing. You can use your portal to broadcast your practice news and special messages, such as the beginning of flu shot season, breast cancer awareness month (and reminders for mammograms), and other health and wellness information that positions your practice as a valued partner in your patient’s healthcare.

Or, what about establishing a patient e-mail list? You can invite your patients to sign up for your practice’s monthly e-newsletter. It’s easy to customize the content sent to your patients based on parameters such as age, sex, or other demographic information you gather with their online subscription. It is a great way to promote your practice and to demonstrate your practice’s expertise on community health and other healthcare topics.

The next frontier. Once you’ve established the basics, what’s next on your technology wish list? Multi-media tools and increased bandwidth can permit you to post a short video of an in-office procedure, helping to calm prospective and/or apprehensive patients prior to their consultation. Or, try posting an audio clip, using your own voice, inviting patients to participate in patient education workshops. The possibilities are evolving every day. Don’t be left behind the technology curve - start creating your patient portal today!

Rosemarie Nelson is a principal with the MGMA healthcare consulting group. She conducts educational seminars and provides keynote speeches on a variety of healthcare-technology and operational topics. Drawing upon her diverse experience, Nelson provides practical solutions to help medical groups succeed in their practices. She may be reached at www.mgma.com/consulting/nelson.