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Patient portals aren’t just a cool marketing tool. In addition to helping a practice meet meaningful use, they are an important part of medical homes.
If you are thinking about implementing a patient portal, or already have one in place, you may not realize that this is a great tool to help you meet certain criteria necessary for achieving Patient-Centered Medical Home (PCMH) recognition.
Many portals offer the components required to meet part of the National Committee for Quality Assurance’s (NCQA) PCMH Standard for patient-centered electronic access. The purpose of doing so is to allow the practice to offer information and services to patients and their families via a secure electronic system whereby patients can view their medical record, access services, and communicate with the healthcare team electronically.
Providing electronic access to this information also enables practices to meet meaningful use requirements, so you get a double return on your portal investment if you are attempting to meet requirements for both the NCQA PCMH and meaningful use programs.
So what exactly does your portal need to provide to meet the criteria?
First, patients need to have online access to their health information (within a defined period of time). That information typically includes pertinent details such as diagnoses, medication lists, and recent test results.
In addition to being able to view pertinent clinical data, a “clinical summary” must also be made available. This is an after-visit summary that provides a patient with relevant and actionable information and instructions, containing the patient name, provider’s office contact information, date and location of visit, an updated medication list, updated vitals, reason(s) for visit, procedures and other instructions based on clinical discussions that took place during the office visit, any updates to a problem list, immunizations or medications administered during visit, and a summary of topics covered during visit. Some summaries may also have the time and location of the patient’s next appointment and any testing, if scheduled or recommended.
Further, there must be secure two-way communication between your patients and your office. Some offices worry that they will be inundated with patient messages through the portal, but the reality is that these communications are often handled much more quickly than via phone call, which frees up provider time significantly.
And finally, patients must be able to request appointments, prescription refills, referrals, and test results. Moving those requests online decreases call volume significantly, and it enables staff and physicians to respond outside of peak visit hours, which not only reduces the time your staff spends handling calls but also helps to streamline work flow over the course of the day.
However, just having a portal is not enough. You must have patients (at least 5 percent of them) actually using your portal in order to meet the recognition criteria. Not sure how to engage your patients and make sure that they know about your portal and it’s features? Read more about the right time to introduce a patient portal.
If you have not yet implemented a patient portal and you are not sure what is the best option, start with your EHR vendor. The most functional portals are those that are seamlessly integrated with your existing EHR system. Not all portals are created equal though and if your vendor’s portal is not what you are looking for, there are also stand-alone products available. Find out more by reading about making the most of your patient portal. Lastly, be aware that you don’t have to turn on the entire functionality of your portal all at once. You may want to roll out the features over time, giving both your staff and patients time to get used to using each one before the next feature is implemented.
Once you do implement a portal, make sure your patients know about it! From your staff to your website to your phone system, market it everywhere. For more tips on how to do that read “Patient Portal Talking Points.”