Are you utilizing your patient portal to its fullest potential?

Sure, you have a patient portal that allows your patients access to their personal health information 24 hours a day. But how familiar are you with its functionality and features? Do you know if you’re using your patient portal to its fullest potential?

The number of physicians using patient portals to interact with their patients is growing significantly, as at least 5 percent of a practice’s patients must be viewing, downloading, or transmitting their electronic health records in order to meet meaningful use stage 2 requirements.

By tapping into the full range of features of your electronic health records system, you can bring increased efficiencies and cost savings to your practice — not to mention providing a higher level of engagement and quality care for your patients.

According to a March 2010 article in Health Data Management Magazine, some healthcare providers saved $0.63 in mailing costs for individual lab results, $17 for online billing questions (versus handling these over the telephone), and $7 for each appointment scheduled online. And a presentation at the 2010 Northwest Medical Informatics Symposium noted that using the secure messaging feature of an EHR/patient portal could result in savings of $0.62 per appointment reminder, $1.75 per phone call to patients, and $2.69 for each lab result delivery.

In light of those numbers, are you ready to maximize the usage of your patient portal? Read on for an overview of the most popular and widely used features.

Secure messaging with physicians

Researchers at Kaiser Permanente found that the ability to email a doctor and access online test results boosted the number of patient portal registrations. In 2006, when such features first became available, the number of website signups jumped from 9 percent to 27 percent of Kaiser’s membership. The key to strong patient engagement is providing value — and many patients find a lot of value in greater connectivity to their healthcare providers.

Lab and test results

Providing patients’ test results online can save time and decrease paperwork within your practice, especially if your labs are already integrated with your EHR system and manual entry is at a minimum. Patients also enjoy quick and easy access to their health information.

Prescription refill requests

Among Kaiser Permanente’s patient portal members, prescription refills have always been one of the most widely used features. Streamlining this process benefits practices and patients alike, reducing the need for phone calls, long wait times, and follow-ups.

Appointment scheduling

When patients have the ability to schedule nonemergency appointments through the portal, your staff will experience reduced call volume — which means fewer patients will be put on hold — and more time to complete their other office tasks.

Billing and payments

Some portals have functionality that allows patients to submit their payments online. Giving patients an additional way to pay (that’s simple and secure!) can lead to more timely payments. The result? Your team won’t have to follow up on as many billing issues, and your practice won’t have to spend as much money hiring a collection agency to track down missing payments.

Educational information

Patients often look for information to help them make sound decisions regarding their own health or the health of a loved one. With all of the websites and resources available today, it’s all too easy to find inaccurate or misleading data. By providing trustworthy educational materials through your portal, your patients can feel confident that they’re reading credible information.

The efficiencies your practice can realize through consistent, widespread use of a patient portal depends on how tech-savvy your staff and patients are, as well as whether the technology fits into your current workflow. While there may be an initial learning curve and a slight decrease in efficiency, the automation of certain processes can ultimately boost overall efficiency and provide cost savings for your practice.

 

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