How to take your patient portal to the next level

The benefits of a patient portal are numerous, offering the opportunity for improved patient satisfaction, education, engagement and fewer unnecessary phone calls to the practice. And while patient portal use is integral to achieving Meaningful Use, the potential improvements to office flow and patient access help the bottom line even more than incentive payments, New-York based consultant Rosemarie Nelson told attendees at last week's Medical Group Management Association Annual Conference in Nashville.

"For many practices, the real issue is how to introduce the portal to patients," Nelson said.

The best time to get patients signed up is when they're in the exam room, according to Nelson. Toward the end of a visit, for example, a doctor or nurse could explain, "you can get your results to these tests online if you join our portal, which will also allow you to schedule appointments, pay your balances and learn more about your condition and related services or procedures."

The next-best person to sell patients on these benefits would be a health coach that works with your practice, Nelson said, followed by employees who help patients check out after appointments.

You can reinforce this education--and make it easy for patients to join your portal--by displaying informational posters in your exam rooms with quick response codes patients can scan right there. In addition, make sure the URL to your practice website and QR codes are printed on any materials you distribute to patients.

For elderly patients who may not use the Internet (though many of them do), Nelson suggested encouraging these individuals' authorized agents to enroll. "They're managing all of their family member's health information anyway," she said. "You may as well make it more convenient."

Finally, revisit your portal's capabilities periodically to ensure it's doing all it can for your office and patients, Nelson suggested. Here are some improvements to consider if you haven't already:

  • Ensure your portal is mobile-friendly
  • Ensure your system can allow new (not just established) patients to self-enroll
  • Allow patients to not just request, but actually schedule appointments online
  • Ensure your portal contains the necessary billing data for a patient to fight an insurance denial if necessary
  • Post videos of physicians providing patient-consent information for certain procedures