While it may seem evident that these portals allow patients access to their medical information, it’s important to remember that patient portal software improves the quality of care provided while enabling greater communication between physicians and their patients.
Patient portals help encourage better physician-patient relationships and give patients more control over their treatment. They’re able to check lab results, request prescription refills, update insurance information, manage any unpaid balances and more. Throughout this article, we’ll discuss what a patient portal is and how it can be beneficial for your health organization.
Patient portals improve the way in which patients and health care providers interact. A product of meaningful use requirements, they were mandated as a way to provide patients with timely access to their health care. Specifically, patient portals give patients access to their health information to take a more active role.
There are two main types of patient portals: a standalone system and an integrated service. Integrated patient portal software functionality usually comes as a part of an EMR system, an EHR system or practice management software. But at their most basic, they’re simply web-based tools.
You can use patient portals to retrieve lab results, ask a question or update patient profiles and insurance providers. Some patient portals also allow patients to schedule appointments and pay bills directly through the system. Providers represent an opportunity to increase patient engagement, promote loyalty, manage costs and streamline workflows.
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No matter the type of platform you choose, your patient portal can provide your patients with secure online access to their medical details and increase their engagement with your practice. And not to mention that it does so while providing several benefits for health care providers as well. Some of these benefits include:
More and more health care providers have introduced their own patient portals as the medical industry has shifted focus toward patient-centered care. Organizations offering patients access to their medical records are at an all-time high. As a result, an increasing number of patients are signing up and actively using these services.
A report from the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) revealed that “over 90% of hospitals allow patients to access their medical records, with 72% of organizations giving patients full view, download and transmit capabilities”. That said, for over half of these facilities, fewer than 25% of patients actually adopt and use them. Health care organizations are working on adding additional tools and features, partly to get more patients involved throughout their treatment process.
Increased Office Efficiency
Implementing a patient portal for your medical practice can increase efficiency in your office by making communication between you and your patients more manageable. Patient portals help save time when signing up new clients, allowing patients to fill out personal information electronically without answering the same questions repeatedly. This also results in fewer errors and inconsistencies regarding a patient’s file.
PracticeEHR offers online appointment scheduling through the patient portal.
Patients are also able to communicate more easily with their providers. They don’t have to wait to receive lab results over the phone or in the mail. Instead, they can do so by simply logging in to their portal. Patients can exchange messages with their physicians at any time. This can save time for receptionists and nurses, especially since the messages appear in real time. Further, they can send out automated patient reminders for any upcoming appointments, which helps reduce no-shows, allowing your physicians to treat more patients daily.
Using a patient portal can also streamline workflows in your office. Your receptionists and nurses no longer have to deal with simple, non-urgent questions over the phone since your office staff can move these communications online. This reserves your phone lines and your office staff’s time for dealing with more urgent health care needs.
Promotion of Telemedicine
Patient portals can also reduce the number of unnecessary patient visits to your office, allowing you to fit in more patients who actually need to see you. This can help facilitate telemedicine, which enables patients to consult with you through a messaging system or video calls.
For example, instead of scheduling an appointment to see their physician for a change in medication doses, the patient could ask you about it using the patient portal. Using this feature lets you keep that appointment open for a patient who either has an illness that requires a diagnosis and prescription in-person or one who needs immediate medical care.
Improve Patient Engagement
Patient portals not only help in providing patient-centric care but also bolster patient engagement. It provides patients access to medical records on the one hand and helps doctors and clinical staff to stay connected to patients through email. This increases patient satisfaction, therefore leading to more customer retention for clinics. With this change in dynamics, more and more clinics are adopting patient portals to offer better care and experience to patients.
Fewer Medical Errors
When receptionists and other staff in a medical office take phone calls, they have to relay the information that patients give them to the nurses and physicians. This sometimes leads to misinterpretations of patient needs and medical issues. Being able to receive written messages from patients allows you and your staff to correctly interpret what your patients need so that you’re well informed and can make the appropriate decisions.
Additionally, telemedicine tools within patient portals, which we just discussed, can help lead to more effective patient medications the first time around. The software can automatically check for any drug-to-drug or drug-to-allergy interactions based on a patient’s diagnosis and current medications even before filing a prescription.
Using a patient portal allows you to send appointment and payment reminders as well as schedule yearly checkups with your patients. This helps save time by automating the scheduling process and ensuring patients are always in the loop.
Portals can also provide your patients with billing information, consent forms, educational materials and test results to keep them informed on their health. Sending them educational materials and test results can save time spent explaining every little detail during an office visit. In addition, this allows you to see more patients every day. If your patients have pressing questions, they can ask for more details via the patient portal or wait until their next visit.
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While many people have used a patient portal by now, they have mixed reviews at best. As you can see in the section above, there are plenty of benefits that patient portals provide. But unfortunately, their potential has yet to be fully harnessed.
Some patient portals are hard to access, poorly designed, cumbersome to navigate and limited in utility. These downfalls make it more likely for patients to pick up the phone and call their provider for a simple issue, negating the benefits. And when it comes to your staff and physicians, subpar patient portals can take up time and resources that aren’t usually billable.
Furthermore, patient portals of this generation are compatible with web browsers and not mobile devices. With mobile applications flooding into health care sectors, it’s about time that organizations spend on R&D to make the portals mobile friendly.
Third-party plugins are another factor that deteriorates patients’ interest in using patient portals. These one-size-fits-all applications do not fulfill the individual needs of patients and thus make the system cumbersome.
If patient portals are a mixed bag, why should the patient portal receive greater consideration in the EHR, EMR and practice management selection processes? Because when you look at current health care technology trends, patient portals are well on their way to improving. Some of these trends include:
First and foremost, as health care moves from fee-for-service to value-based care, providers will have further incentive to improve the patient experience, track compliance and manage costs. In addition to improving patient health and facilitating wellness, patient portals have the potential to increase information accuracy, reduce duplication and cut down on time spent on patient records, payments and prescription refills.
The future of health and medicine points to the importance of data. Use of big data analytics will increase more quickly in health care than any other industry — with a projected growth rate of over 19% through the year 2032. Additionally, patient portals can yield a trove of information not captured in a doctor’s visit or clinical interaction. This could result in better population health management and increased ability to track patient engagement and improve adherence to treatment plans.
Patient portals let users look up medical information, lab results and more.
Patient as Consumer
Patient portals will grow in popularity as patients evolve into health care consumers. Increasingly, they want better, faster access to their health information and to be involved in the medical decision-making process. Patient portals are a natural extension of the trend to go online to select a provider or research medical conditions and treatments. They’re going to expect a positive user experience, rewarding those who provide it with their loyalty.
The growing use of mobile apps, smartphones and wearable devices has increased the demand for patient portals. This has increased the monitoring and uploading of patient health and physical activity information. In turn, this has made patients more conscious of their health, leading to more self-management and data exchange with patient portals.
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How to Use a Patient Portal
With patient portals, the first and foremost thing you will need is a computer and a working internet connection. Create a customized user’s account in the software to avail medical services on your own. Once you enter the patient portal, click on links and products sold by the provider and tap into a new experience. Set up the portal according to your needs and receive messages, reminders and notifications to stay up to date with recent services and products.
Now that you know what a patient portal is and given the potential and growing importance, how should you evaluate the best portal for your practice or facility?
You can select a standalone patient portal that a third-party vendor commonly hosts through the cloud as a health care provider. This approach can result in incompatibility issues with your EMR and/or EHR system, requiring cooperation from the vendor(s) — often at a price.
Alternatively, you can select a patient portal as part of an EHR, EMR or practice management software. The good news is that nearly all of these systems provide a patient portal component. When evaluating their product, you need to remember that patient portals are not all created equal and can differ quite drastically in functionality and usability. As such, you need to take into consideration:
The cost of patient portal software will vary, while some come with purchasing a health IT system. Consider whether or not your solution provides training, maintenance, troubleshooting and upgrades and if they charge an extra fee for any of these or not.
Ideally, you’ll want your patient portal to be flexible (especially if you are a specialty clinic). It’s a smart idea to choose a solution with a configurable interface so it’s better suited to your specific clinic.
3. Patient Management
Does the patient portal provide the ability to refill prescriptions, monitor compliance, track patient progress, schedule/cancel appointments, pay bills, upload documents and download practice forms? While not all patient portals will offer this entire list of features, make sure to narrow down which ones are essential for your users.
One thing to consider is how easy a prospective system makes it for physicians and patients to send and receive messages. Patients should be able to upload documents quickly without frustration.
5. Patient Access
For patients who aren’t using the software on a daily basis, it’s a good idea to consider how accessible the patient portal will be. You want logging in to be as simple and straightforward as possible and available through multiple devices.
6. Usability and Navigation
Think about how the experience will be for the user. It’s important to choose a system that is intuitive, user-friendly and easy to navigate. It’s also good to make sure that patient-accessible information, such as test results, is compiled in an understandable format. Also worth considering is whether or not the portal accounts for visually-impaired people as well as non-English speakers.
Patients should be able to view lab results and track immunizations, medications and allergies. Additionally, they should be able to access personal information, notes and medical history. Many patient portals will provide an online health care library consisting of educational resources that can be helpful for patients.
It’s important to make sure your solution is HIPAA-compliant to ensure privacy. You want a secure connection that can provide stored data and guard against data breaches. Make sure your solution meets confidentiality and legal requirements for minors as well.
Patient portals are evolving, gaining wider acceptance and growing in importance. Not every EHR can address all of these considerations in a manner that meets your needs. Its components are only part of the equation; the other part is you and your commitment. Will you provide training for your nurses, physicians and staff? Will you actively encourage patients to use the patient portal?
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It’s clear that using patient portal software can provide several benefits for your medical practice. After accounting for these considerations, you should be ready to start using a patient portal. The only decision left to make is which platform you’ll use. Consider taking a look at our Top Medical Software Comparison or build your own requirements checklist to give yourself an idea of what to look for.
Do you have any questions about patient portals or what they do? How has your health organization benefited from the use of these portals? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.