Patient Portals: More Than a Tool to Meet Meaningful Use

August 12, 2014
Avery Hurt

Smart use of your patient portal can not only help physicians meet meaningful use rules, but also foster better patient interactions.

For many providers, one of the more anxiety-inducing requirements of the Stage 2 rules of meaningful use is getting 5 percent of their patients to engage with their EHR-based portals. It may be challenging to get patients to use your portal, but it's worth the effort. A well-designed portal can be as useful to you as it is to your patients.

Obvious benefits of an active portal include fewer phone calls to the front desk from patients scheduling appointments or requesting prescription refills; a quick and easy way to respond to routine questions; and a paper-free method of getting clinical summaries to patients. But your portal doesn't have to stop there. Your portal can also provide educational materials about patient conditions and lifestyle advice, such as links to information about diet, exercise, and smoking cessation programs. The beauty of using your portal to engage patients in their own care is that you can suggest links and provide educational materials that you have already vetted. If patients can find the information they need on your portal, they are less likely to get duped by unscientific information on the Web.

An attractive patient portal can also give you a competitive edge. "Many patients are starting to expect this kind of access," said Scott MacDonald, EHR associate medical director at the University of California, Davis. "When one practice in town is doing it, everyone else may have to do it, too, just to remain competitive."

Portals are not without pitfalls, however. "When using portals to communicate with patients, providers have to use common sense. If the patient has questions about a known condition and the provider feels comfortable answering basic questions through the portal, then there would be minimal ethical risk involved. However, providers should not engage with patients about or treat them for new conditions or worsening conditions through portals," advised Tammie Olson of Management Resource Group, a firm offering financial management and support services for the medical community.

This may be trickier than it sounds. "With copays going up, sometimes patients would rather send a message [via the portal] than come in for a visit," said MacDonald.

Used wisely, however, your portal can be a boon to both your practice and your patients.