Patient Portals 'Critical' for Physicians' Practices

August 23, 2012

As patient portal implementation picks up at practices, physicians must get on board, say health IT experts

If your practice has not yet acquired or implemented a patient portal, it’s time to seriously consider doing so. That’s because a portal, or similar patient engagement-oriented technology, will soon become a critical tool at many practices.

As proposed, Stage 2 rules for the Medicare/Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs include several new objectives related to patient engagement. It will be much easier for physicians to fulfill these objectives if their practice has implemented patient portal-like technology.

“I think patient engagement will play a much bigger role [in Stage 2] than it plays in Stage 1,” San Francisco-based family physician Robert Rowley, former medical director of EHR vendor Practice Fusion, told Physicians Practice. “It seems from the proposed rule that physicians will be ‘graded’ if you will, on how much their patients adopt patient portals and a patient interface ...”

For instance, in CMS' proposed Stage 2 rule, one new core requirement is that more than 50 percent of all unique patients seen by the eligible provider (EP) during the EHR reporting period are provided online access to their health information within four business days after the information is available to the EP. And, more than 10 percent of all unique patients seen by the EP (or their authorized representatives) must view, download, or transmit to a third party their health information within four business days.

But while a patient portal will make it easier for physicians to fulfill this requirement (and many other patient engagement-oriented requirements, many practices have yet to implement the technology. In fact, only 29 percent of you have done so, according to Physicians Practice 2012 Technology Survey, Sponsored by AT&T.

While cost and resources play a role in the portal adoption and implementation delay among practices, another reason is that some physicians are reluctant to adopt the technology.

For instance, some doctors worry that they will be deluged with messages and inquiries from patients if they implement a portal. But pediatrician Peter Kilbridge, a senior research director with The Advisory Board Company’s Information Technology program suite, told Physicians Practice this is a “myth.”

“It just doesn’t happen,” he said. “Patients are very respectful of a doctor’s time, and if anything, they tend to be hesitant to intrude upon a doctor’s busy workday.”

Some doctors also fear that giving patients access to lab and test results will result in patient misunderstandings of labs and undue emotional distress. But Kilbridge said this too is a myth.

“This too turns out to be generally not true,” he said. “A good portal gives patients some good resources with which to interpret lab values (common labs) and patients usually tend to behave pretty rationally seeking information, as appropriate, from their care provider.”

Have you recently implemented a patient portal at your practice? How has it influenced your work flow?