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How a Patient Portal Can Help Your Office Provide Better Medical Care

What is a HIPAA Compliant Patient Portal?

Almost every medical professional in private practice today has a business website, but does it have the ability to provision a HIPAA compliant account for your patients? A portal like this will enable your patients to interact with your practice, review their treatment plan, update insurance info, pay open patient balances, schedule appointments with your office, receive lab results, request refills, get referrals, or easily cancel or reschedule appointments so that costly no-shows are avoided.

In addition to your ordinary website, a Patient Portal that is fully integrated with your practice management system can greatly facilitate patient-to-office communication with self-serve features that reduce interruptions to your office workflow and allow staff to focus on the patients at hand, thereby building better relationships and providing improved care.

The Practice Portal’s role in patient education, treatment instruction, and patient communication is growing.

Patients recall only about 10% of the information imparted by physicians during an office visit, and about half of all patients don’t understand their treatment plan” states Richard Nordstrom, chief executive officer for a health care communications consulting firm in Montclair, N.J.

“Furthermore, 90% of patients have difficulty following routine medical advice”. “Educating a patient on conditions and treatments critical for the patient’s care averages only 11 minutes, and during that time, patients ask an average of only two questions.” Nordstrom goes on to state: “Unfortunately, ‘stressful’ has become the word to describe doctor-patient relationships today. Patients try to communicate with their doctor and their doctor is always too busy”

But the fact that improved communication leads to higher patient satisfaction and better clinical outcomes is shown in the case where educational intervention causes up to a 4 fold increase in effectiveness of pain management.

The aim of Patient Relationship Management is ultimately to improve outcomes through continuity of care and patient communication by connecting not only to the patient, but their families, and caregivers to their healthcare providers. The non-invasive nature of the Patient Portal makes it ideal for collecting important feedback related to treatment care, staff interactions, patient experience, and in creating increased staff accountability.

Done right, it has the potential to vastly contribute to a patient-centered and family-focused care, and to higher patient satisfaction.

What are Some of the Chief Benefits of a Patient Portal?

In addition to facilitating questions about treatment and the ability to receive treatment instruction and patient education, enhanced communication creates better patient safety.

In his blog post on Patient Communication, Dr Kevin, MD states: “Effective communication is the cornerstone of patient safety. For many individuals, effective communication can be inhibited by language and cultural differences, or by the patient’s hearing, speaking, or visual impairments, or by their ability to understand and act on health information due to cognitive impairments, disease, or disability.” “Communication issues have been shown to be the main underlying cause of sentinel events reported to The Joint Commission, and the literature shows that “communication vulnerable” patients are at increased risk of medical error.”

But What Does a Good Patient Portal Look Like?

Today’s Patient Portals must meet the Stage II requirements of Meaningful Use. So, in addition to giving patients secure doctor-to-patient communication or the ability to post appointments, or request or ask pertinent questions regarding their care; following is our checklist of 10 features that your patient portal should have:

  1. It should be HIPAA Secure and certified for Stage II Meaningful Use.
  2. The Portal should be tightly integrated and work as one system with your clinical, medical billing, and practice management software system
  3. It should be cloud-based so as to be accessible anytime, anywhere, from any device by both the patient, and by the medical staff.
  4. Offer Patient-to-Provider HIPAA SECURE Messaging
  5. Offer online scheduling so that patients can set appointments (at preset times), cancel, or move an appointment, to avoid costly missed appointments.
  6. The ability for patients to print any necessary forms before they come in – or even better, to register electronically right on the website prior to the appointment.
  7. Patients should be able to enter their medical history, allergies, medications, the reason for the visit, and update their insurance info.
  8. Patients should be able to review labs (as deemed by the provider), request refills, and referrals
  9. Process credit card payments so that patient can pay balances online
  10. The ability for office staff to easily update webpages on their own and  configure web-based Self-Assessment forms, conduct surveys, send out Press Releases, and otherwise communicate with the practice’s entire client base  –to alert on events, create community, and generate priceless feedback on patient satisfaction.

A good Patient Portal will be user friendly and require very little computer knowledge to operate. Additionally, staff should have complete control of the website and be able to easily make updates themselves at no cost.

Giving your patients access to their own data, along with secure and HIPAA compliant patient-to-doctor communication will increase your office efficiency, reduce time consuming and needless phone calls, and will increase the patient’s over all experience – amounting to increased patient satisfaction – all the while giving you the opportunity to provide better and more personalized care and medical treatment by allowing you to focus without interruption on the patient you’re with.

Incidentally, improving communication is likely to reduce your risk of being sued for malpractice. Promoting a more patient-centered relationship is not only key to better outcomes and increased patient satisfaction, but effective patient communication is directly responsible for patients walking away feeling more engaged, activated, and empowered in their healthcare and treatment. Implementing a Practice Portal /Patient Portal turns out to be a win-win situation with not only exceptional cost-justification, but that of reaching toward everyone’s goal of a healthier, happy patient.

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