Patient Portals: From Implementation to Maximizing Use

October 15, 2015

You likely have a patient portal to meet meaningful use, but here's how to put it into practice to really help your practice staff and your patients.

At this year’s Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Annual Conference, healthcare consultant Rosemarie Nelson provided compelling evidence about the promise of patient portals and their potential to make physician operations more efficient.

“I think the best way to get into an EHR is to start with portal technology,” Nelson said. “Practices should engage patients and get them to start registering and submitting ‘PMFSHx’ (or past medical, family, social history) online."

Patients often tire of giving the same information over and over to different providers, so the portal can offer a central place for gathering information.  “Another place to search for a portal is with [a practice's] practice management system vendor …  to register and bill patients and for appointment scheduling," she said. "…That is data the practice will want integrated with the portal. Why re-enter information the patient has already entered?”

Nelson identified kiosks as being a particularly attractive option for patients to access portals during their visit. “First, kiosks range in costs from very low to several thousand [dollars] with monthly fees,” Nelson said. “Practices haven't calculated their existing costs; they don't know the cost of the process for something as simple as patient registration. Add the cost of re-processing insurance claims due to ineligible insurance at $25 to $40 per claim and the ‘costs’ are easily offset by reduced operational costs and improved collections.”

In one example Nelson provided at her educational session in Nashville, Tenn., kiosks at the West Boca Diagnostic Imaging Center in Boca Raton, Fla., allowed providers to see 15 to20 more patients per day than with traditional front desk check-ins.

Nelson said during the due diligence purchase process, a practice can start with the vendor's cost-benefit analysis and then apply their own specific patient data (usually a vendor will assist with a justification presentation). “Of course, that is easily said, but practice managers wear many hats and may not have the time, but getting a few hours of consultative help may give them the assessment that can support a purchase (or clearly indicate why not to go forward with implementation).”

The portal is also an ideal place to deliver practice content, frequently asked questions, and physician-authored, peer-reviewed content for patients, Nelson said. In addition, one simple but effective way to pump up a patient portal is to make sure it is mobile friendly in a growing environment of smartphone-enabled patients.

Nelson expects more development and integration of mobile apps with portals in the future. “Why not make it so easy that the patient could download a free app and try it right there in the waiting room?” she asked

“For the most part, many practices are not patient-friendly or consumer-friendly and I see that changing as our reimbursement model evolves,” said Nelson.