A New Way To Communicate - The Patient Portal

Janice Humphries
February 14, 2012 — 1,192 views  
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Implementing Electronic Health Records in any practice can be a challenge. And what I have found to be the biggest challenge is demonstrating meaningful use. Providers are often surprised to find that one of the required features of an EHR system is utilizing a Patient Portal. Over time, this feature will change the way the patient and the practice communicate with each other

So what exactly is a Patient Portal? It is a web-based service that allows practices and patients to communication with other and share healthcare information in a secure environment. You can think of it like email and file attachments with security.

There are several meaningful use requirements that involve the Patient Portal. The practice must demonstrate the ability to send healthcare information like lab results, patient instructions, chart notes, reminders, etc. to the patient via the Patient Portal.

In order for this information to be received, patients must first sign up on the Patient Portal. In most cases, the conduit to sign up will be via the practice website. Once an account is set up, the patient can enter their personal health record (PHR). This includes adding items like health problems, family medical history, current medications, etc. Patients will notice that the questions are presented in similar fashion to the health forms completed in the office.

The completed PHR record can then be imported into the provider's EHR system. It should be noted that the bi-directional Patient Portal is not yet available in all systems but it is a very important feature because it saves the practice a lot of time on data entry especially on medication and problem lists. In addition, it adds convenience for the patient by saving them time in the office.

Many EHR vendors are still focused on meeting the extensive requirements to maintain their ONC-ATCB status. It is this certification that allows physicians to collect their EHR incentive payments from Medicare and Medicaid.

Other features of a Patient Portal include the ability to send patient messages to the doctor, nurse, or other staff, to make appointments, and request medication refills. Patient Portals are a fairly new phenomenon in healthcare and it will take time for practices and patients to adjust to them.

Still there are concerns. Patients worry about the potential for healthcare data security breaches and providers are concerned about their liability in this regard. Providers also are concerned that the Patient Portal will add more to their workload. I think that these concerns are overestimated and that patients, providers, and staff will find that the Patient Portal, properly used, will cut down on phone calls, paperwork, and generally improve healthcare delivery.


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Janice Humphries

Janice Humphries has over 20 years experience as a medical biller and software trainer. Her company provides online services to small medical practices and home based billing services all around the United States. Her site is a compilation of her own medical billing experiences, those of her partner Arliene Koch, as well as her many clients and colleagues. There are many places on this site where she asks for your feedback and encourages you to share your experience and contribute to the knowledgebase at the Medical Billing Guide http://www.medical-billing-guide.com/