Many patient portal vendors employ strategies to help physicians meet Meaningful Use requirements; however, their software does not necessarily present an efficient or effective way for patients to access to their electronic health records. Some patient portals, for example, only support medical billing exchanges and don’t provide clinical information. Others provide a standard patient portal system with a good set of features, but don’t allow customization to suit the physician’s needs.
When evaluating a patient portal software for your healthcare organization, here are four key issues you should consider:
Patient portal costs may include upfront licensing fees, installation and annual maintenance. Some vendors even charge a fee for each transaction that occurs. For example, a physician would have to pay a transaction fee for each patient reminder, message and released office note. In cases such as these, transaction costs could balloon into a significant portion of a practice’s IT budget as patient portal usage increases. To avoid being surprised by rising costs, practices should try to estimate the upfront and ongoing cost of a patient portal. This will help physicians understand the full scope of their financial commitment.
There are many features that can be offered by a patient portal, but few vendors provide all of them. For example, some patient portals only support secure messaging to fulfill Stage 2 Meaningful Use while others support a complete exchange of specific information on patient care issues. With Bridge Patient Portal, physicians can customize a patient intake form to replicate condition-specific forms for patients to fill out. This History of Present Illness intake form can be linked into the conditions section within the patient portal without input needed by the physician or administrative staff.
Patient portal features can also affect a practice’s implementation strategy and EHR use. For example, a patient portal system that is limited to messages is typically implemented after the EHR has already been in use for the majority of active patients. On the other hand, software that allows patients to schedule appointments and input History of Present Illness or other medical information can be an invaluable tool to help introduce patients to the portal and would typically be implemented sooner.
3. Meaningful Use
Patient portals were a convenience under Meaningful Use Stage 1, and are now a necessity under Meaningful Use Stage 2 for Hospitals and Eligible Professionals. Under Stage 1, requirements include a core measure to provide clinical summaries for office visits. There are a number of clinical summary delivery options that include paper summaries, CDs and secure email, as well as a patient portal system. However, after assessing the costs and logistical issues of providing summaries to patients, patient portals prove to be the most cost effective and patient service-oriented strategy. In addition, a requirement in Stage 2 of Meaningful Use includes patient messaging, which can also be accomplished with a patient portal.
4. EHR Working Strategy
Patient portals can have a number of different EHR working strategies. In some instances, the patient portal may send messages which must be manually interpreted and processed by the medical staff. In other cases, the patient portal generates targeted messages that are connected to the relevant EHR information and features. For example, some patient portals send a message that a patient has requested a refill of a particular prescription, and the physician has to confirm by locating the prescription in the patient’s chart to issue the refill. In other instances, the patient summary can be included with the refill request message which is highlighted on the medications list saving time in verifying the prescription for the physician.
With an ever expanding list of patient service agendas, it is necessary to have a diligent patient portal strategy that includes effective workflows between the patient portal and the EHR. Unfortunately, many practices have not carefully examined their patient portal strategy or their current EHR workflow while considering the implications of an interface between a patient portal and their EHR. Practices and hospitals should understand the specifics of the compatibility of the two software systems and consider the portal features and costs in their evaluation and EHR implementation strategy.
This article was originally published on the Medical Web Experts blog.