Chances are good that your EHR includes some easy-to-implement patient portal features that can save your staff time and increase the profitability of your practice.  As an example, consider your current intake process for new patients. Most practices still use a paper form that is filled out by patient at the time of the first appointment and that is subsequently re-entered by staff into the EHR – a needlessly cumbersome and tedious process for the patient and staff. 

Fortunately, almost all EHRs that include patient portals can help automate this process, sometimes completely. In the best implementations, patients can log-in to the portal and complete their forms whenever they prefer – and the data entry task for your staff essentially disappears, saving time and eliminating possible errors.  How might this feature alone affect your bottom line? Paul Louiselle reported in the Journal of Medical Practice Management (Nov/Dec 2012) that his pediatric surgery practice will save roughly $23,000 in staff time in the first year alone by automating new patient intake forms.

Many duties of your front desk staff are highly repetitive and, as such, are potential opportunities for automation.  We take for granted phone trees that can help by providing directions or hours of operation in addition to simply routing calls, but it’s important to remember that at one point even these phone systems were cutting-edge technologies.  Patient portal functionality, will become ubiquitous in coming years – the sooner you implement, the more your practice can profit.  If you cannot take on another task, don’t get discouraged. Many practices we help have existing staff that will embrace a new career challenge – understanding the potential for a patient portal to help your practice can be a wonderful opportunity for one of your staff to really shine.

Among their many functions, patient portals often offer secure electronic communication between patients and physicians, lab results, prescription refills and other clinical features. The adoption of these and other clinical functions warrants caution.  Physicians are often and rightly concerned about how communicating with patients via the patient portal will affect reimbursement.  Physician owners or practice administrators should consult with their payers and even a coding professional to reduce uncertainty with respect to reimbursement. Not withstanding these concerns, many physicians find tremendous benefit to answering patient inquiries via email because they can address them altogether at their convenience as opposed to being frequently interrupted by patients who have all-too-often been kept waiting on the phone.

Whether you start with front office or back office patient portal functionality, we hope that you find that it frees up time, improves your patient care and contributes to a more profitable practice.

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