Putting your best portal forward
Two of the most obvious uses for a patient portal—the ability for physicians or office staff and patients to exchange secure messages and the ability for patients to request or schedule appointments online—are also the most underused by provider organizations.
Patients love the convenience and flexibility of online scheduling and messaging, Gordon says. “I requested an appointment for my mammogram on a Sunday evening and was able to request times that I had available and were the most convenient for me. I received a call back from the central scheduling office confirming an appointment date and time. I can also go back to the portal and see all of my future scheduled appointments, add it to my personal calendar, and print out a map for directions.”
Messaging and appointment services improve patient satisfaction, says Barbara Fahl-Watkins, administrator of the Heart & Vascular Center of Arizona, a five-facility clinic based in Phoenix. “Patients do not want to be on hold or navigate through automated phone messaging. The portal avoids both of those issues.”
Another emerging use for portals: checking in with patients at home. “Many of our patients are now on some form of home monitoring,” says Fahl-Watkins. Patients use the portal to send results of blood pressure readings, monitoring results for blood thinners, daily weights for congestive heart failure patients, and blood sugar levels for diabetics.
Portals that pay it forward
Portals can benefit providers, too—often with measurable cost savings or improvements in efficiency.
Reducing staff time spent talking to patients or taking messages is “a huge cost saving,” says Fahl-Watkins. “The number of incoming calls has dropped by 20% with the advent of our portal.”
Bill pay is another option that patients like and that can have a direct impact on revenue. “The ease of simply being able to go into the portal and pay your bill online is going to improve financial efficiencies,” Gordon says.