Patient Portals an EHR Necessity

Patient Portals Parallel EHR Development

Ron Sterling
Sterling Solutions
Author: Keys to EMR/EHR Success

Why Are Patient Portals More Important Than You Think?

Patient portals facilitate the exchange of information between patients and physician practices. What was once considered a nice option for your EHR is becoming a necessity. Unfortunately, not all patient portals offer the same features. Failure to acquire an adequate patient portal could limit your EHR benefits and increase your costs.

Patient portals facilitate the exchange of information on clinical and administrative issues. Patient portals can help you get updated patient demographic information, and new insurance information as well as coordinate appointment scheduling, and process payments. Clinical patient portal features include requesting refills, exchanging messages, reminding patients about treatment plan items, and accessing patient exam notes. Patient portals can also collect patient family/social history and even history of present illness as well as monitor patient wellness on a periodic basis. Clinical information may be accepted directly into the patient note for editing by the doctor or staff. Thereby, you save time documenting patient conditions and history.

From a product development standpoint, patient portals have paralleled the EHR industry. Originally, most patient portals were developed as stand-alone products that were painstakingly interfaced with EHR and medical billing systems. Many EHR vendors have now established joint marketing programs with patient portal vendors or purchased patient portal products. In other words, your ability to pick “best of breed” patient portals to work with your EHR is rapidly diminishing.

The lack of patient portal choices is not a trivial issue. Not all patient portal strategies are based on the same principles or support the same features. Indeed, many vendors have patient portal strategies that meet the minimum for Meaningful Use and not necessarily present an efficient or effective way to collaborate with patients. For example, some patient portals only support medical billing exchanges and do not deal with any clinical information.

Patient portal evaluations should consider the following key issues:

One of the surprise patient portal issues is the pricing model. As EHRs have become very competitive on price, patient portal costs have shot up. Typically, practices look at patient portal add ons after the fact and do not completely consider patient portal costs.
Patient portal costs may include upfront software, installation, annual maintenance, and a per transaction fee. Transaction costs may be assessed for each transaction through the portal. For example, you may pay a transaction fee for each patient reminder, message and released office note. Transaction costs could grow into a significant portion of your computer costs as the patient portal is deployed for use. The patient portal costs need to be effectively projected to understand the full scope of the EHR financial commitment.

Meaningful Use
Patient portals are a convenience under Meaningful Use Stage 1, and a necessity under Meaningful Use Stage 2. Stage 1 includes a core measure to provide clinical summaries for office visits. There are a number of clinical summary delivery options including paper summaries, CD, and secure email as well as patient portal. However, looking at the costs and logistical issues of providing summaries, a patient portal provides the most cost effective and patient service oriented strategy to fulfill this MU measure.Stage 2 of Meaningful Use includes patient messaging which will require a patient portal strategy.

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