When considering a Patient Portal for your EMR, don’t take an all-or-nothing attitude about the features you can manage to incorporate.
Many small to medium practices cannot get excited about the use of patient web portal modules for their still-new EMRs. They feel it will require too much input from their side (HIPAA issues, security issues, possible billing for e-visits, portability and export options to other systems) and just something else large to go wrong. Patient portals can incorporate so many functions, and they do require the attention of doctors, nurses and administrators.
But a modified – or not fully functional patient portal — offers so many advantages and efficiencies even to a smaller practice. In medical practices and EMRs it is important not to maintain an “all or nothing” attitude. Just because your practice may not be ready to go for the whole bells-and-whistles use of a patient portal does not mean that you should forego the obvious advantages that a modest patient portal – or a not yet fully utilized patient portal – can afford to your medical practice.
Here are some of these advantages:
- Confidential email for simple queries that would take you, your receptionist, and the patient so much longer to answer than the simple query. This way, no one is obligated to get off the phone, return a call, or complete the circuit immediately. Queries can be answered at your relative leisure.
- Easy way to transmit preventive care information. You can send patients exercise, diets, which you keep stored and organized in a database online. It saves you and your staff time.
- Quick and more efficient way to collect revenues. Most people don’t have to think too hard to pay a bill online: easier and cheaper for the patient than to find an envelope, get your checkbook out, locate a stamp and get to the mailbox. So much less work for your office staff!
- Requests for prescriptions are simple: even if you have not yet implemented e-prescription software, at least the request can be handled at your leisure.
- It is definitely the direction the world is going in: Why wait till the 11th hour to implement something that will help you during hour #1?
Of course in situations where the insurer and the provider is one and the same (we are not naming names here, but we all know there are a few large examples of such companies) there is much greater incentive to create full-service patient portals. For instance, there is every reason to want to eliminate visits that are unnecessary, both for the doctors’ and patients’ sake, and for the sake of the bottom line: eliminating extra visits saves money. A small practice may not have the luxury of thinking big enough, and may be happier to have the extra appointments happen.
If you are considering a major EMR or EHR system, the system will surely offer a patient portal. If you are using, or contemplating using a smaller EMR, that does not incorporate a patient portal, there are stand-alone patient portals that can work with your EMR. These are generally simpler and have fewer functions, but nevertheless do enough of the job to be of great value to you, or much more value than no patient portal.
If you are considering a serious patient portal, here are some basic critical features to look for:
- Integration of secure credit card and bill handling processes
- The ability to hand off patients’ EMR data to a CCD/CCR (Continuity of Care Record / or Document). If you are buying into an EMR and its patient portal for the long term, or even the semi-long term, we are not far from the era of the ubiquitous use of a PHR (Personal Health Records) like Microsoft’s Healthvault, Epic’s Lucy, or Google Health
- The availability of e-visits; clarification of costs for e-visits, if there will be costs. The ability for patients to update their EMR records through their Patient Portals (changes in medical condition, weight, symptoms)
- On line prescription service to interface with an e-percription module.
Though you may choose not to integrate all the features that a patient portal offers, you need to create the beginning of a patient portal to make your patients lives’ – and your own work – easier in the long run.
Look at a service that compares high quality EMRs by module such as the CTS Medical Software download kit, and see what different vendors offer in the way of patient portal features.