Patient Portals: Timing Is Key

Many practices have asked us ‘when is the best time to launch a patient portal?’ The best time to implement a patient portal to meet meaningful use (MU) requirements is when the practice has a good system in place for patient engagement.

A 2012 study conducted by Accenture found that 90 percent of patients want to access their medical information online, but 46 percent don’t know if they’re able to do so.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, the use of patient portals led to improvements in clinical outcomes, patient behavior, and experiences.

New MU core objectives introduced two patient engagement measures where the use of a patient portal is required to meet the required specifications of the measures. Patient portals are used by both physicians and patients to perform many functions, which will not only help patients better understand their health care, but also increase physician response time to inquiries from their patients.

Some of the functionalities that patient portals can offer are requests for office appointments, refills on medications, requests for referrals to specialty office appointments, paying medical bills online, and viewing laboratory and other test results from recent visits. Patients also will be given the capability to submit health care inquiries to their physicians without scheduling an exam, leaving more in office appointment availabilities.

“The patient portal has promoted more efficient communication between our office and our patients,” said Allison Ray, MD, a pediatrician from Mechanicsburg and a PAMED member whose practice recently launched a patient portal. “Families can view their child’s vaccine records and laboratory results, obtain school and daycare forms, and even schedule routine well child care visits from the convenience of their home computer. The feedback from our patients and families regarding the patient portal has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Younger patients and those with chronic illnesses are more than likely to register and use a patient portal; most elderly patients are not likely to participate due to their lack of understanding the benefits of its use. For the elderly population, practices and physicians would need to reach out to family members caring for their elderly parents to see the benefit in its use.

Physicians who find it unnecessary to implement a patient portal may certainly direct portal communications to delegated staff members who in turn could sit down with the physician to address any patient messages and deliver a response on the physician’s behalf.

Tool you can use:

  • In this recent CME activity, identify the benefits of using a patient portal, implement strategies to enhance patient care, communication, and engagement, and maximize the use of portals.
  • Three tips to ensure portal/EHR security