Make It A Benefit, Not A Burden

Patient Portals have become a crucial part of the Meaningful Use Program and MACRA since they help promote better patient care and provide 24/7 access to patient’s health information.
Many practices are adopting the use of these portals so they can earn the incentive payments tied to them. The question is, is your practice seeing the benefits or seeing it as a burden? Patients will more than likely enroll, but yet continue to call the practice with an overwhelming amount of questions.
We work with a lot of practices, and most of their EHR portals focus on the business aspect like how to log in and maybe add some legal jargon here and there. What they lack are instructions or best practices for how the portal should be used. Many physician practices assume that the best method for a patient portal is to invite the patient and forget the rest, but what if there is a better way?
We recommend a policy. Yes, a simple piece of paper designed to highlight what the Patient Portal is and how it should and should not be used. Your practice administrator, or a member of your leadership team, should create a patient policy that includes the types of requests that are appropriate and what messages you are equipped to handle through the portal. Neither your staff nor your patients are going to see the benefit of having a patient portal if no one knows how to use it.
What Should You Do For It To Be A Benefit?
  • Gain a better understanding of what your EHR makes available to patients through the portal. This can usually be found in the help or tutorial section. You might be able to turn patient messages on and off, to fit the needs of your practice.
  • Put a Patient Portal Policy in place that is signed by patients as part of their new patient process. You can also use the same procedure for existing patients who currently have access to the portal, or who request access.
  • If you allow messaging, be sure to include guidelines for the patient like what is appropriate and what is not. 
  • Include the entire practice in the process, so everyone is on the same page.
  • Use the portal to communicate lab and test results.
  • Have providers and staff remind the patient, both before they leave the exam room and at checkout, that they’ll be able to access any lab results (and any other material relevant to your portal/practice) through the portal.
  • If scheduling is an added feature, staff should also remind the patient, “you can request an appointment online instead of leaving a message and being placed on hold.”
  • Hold patients accountable. One thing we hear over and over again is “the patient should know how to use the portal,” or our personal favorite “The patient is just going to do whatever they want.”
    • Rule #1: Your patients want guidance. They want clarity. If the patient portal allows them to send you a message and they are not given any direction, then the patient does not know not to send a message every time they have a cough. Clarify the “rules of engagement.”
    • Rule #2: Your practice is your business. Sometimes you have to invest time and resources into making it operate more efficiently for you. If you don't, you will continue to undergo burnout, and you will never have enough time.