If we were to rank integrative healthcare goals in order of importance for providers, it’s safe to say patient engagement would be at or near the top of the list. The concept of integrative medicine implies that a genuine relationship with patients is essential in order to adequately treat the mind, body and spirit. Often offered as an extension of electronic medical record (EMR) software, the convenience of a patient portal has become the go-to tool to increase patient engagement and transparency with healthcare clients.

Laptop Work-2The market for patient portal technology is expected to grow to $898.4 million by 2017.  This expected growth is in response to patients’ increasing demand for online access to their health records, as well as government requirements through Stage 2 of meaningful use.

What’s in it for the patient?

Understanding around the expected uptick in patient portal adoption comes through the understanding of what patients are looking for in their overall healthcare experience. When it comes to specific functionality, a recent study shows patients are most interested in being able to schedule appointments, view laboratory results and pay medical bills online. The premise behind portal adoption comes from the idea of creating a central and convenient platform for two-way communication. Allowing for a secure environment in which patients can better manage every aspect of their healthcare and communicate around the clock with physicians helps to build a meaningful relationship while offering the ease of anytime access to their provider.

What’s in it for the physician?

Studies have shown that patients who are more engaged in their care experience better outcomes at a lower cost.  An example of this scenario is the University of Iowa Healthcare. The organization reported seeing a cost savings of $400,000 per year by implementing a patient portal. While the healthcare organization sees a significantly large number of patients on a daily basis, their use of the portal can be emulated by any size practice. Leveraging capabilities such as secure messaging, the group contacted patients who were due for a Mammogram screening. This action lead to the increase of more than 100 patients who got screened, compared to the same month from the previous year. Read more about the University of Iowa Healthcare

What should I look for in a patient portal?

Although many patient portals may offer a wide variety of functionality, it is up to the provider to determine what is best for the practice and what will benefit the patient most. Choosing the right portal will directly affect how your practice communicates with patients and how they get information concerning their PHI.  Here are a few key items of functionality that should not be overlooked when deciding on the right portal for your practice:

Appointment scheduling
Check with you potential portal provider to make sure your patients can make, cancel and reschedule appointments on their own.  This will help your office keep better track of the office while allowing the patient to easily choose times that are most convenient for them.

View lab results
Ordering labs and having results auto-populate in the patient portal not only improves efficiency, it also allows patients to view their own healthcare trends by keeping them well-informed of their conditions. This also helps them easily share results with friends and family members.

Secure messaging
This is an important tool to have in your arsenal.  Patients want communication and the means by which they get it can have a big impact on your practice.  Make sure your portal has a way of messaging that is HIPAA compliant to avoid penalties.

Patient education
Searching for a portal that allows patients to access healthcare education online can save your practice money by reducing paper costs and also foster a better sense of understanding for patients. This can lead to a more motivated patient and better care outcomes.

Prescription refills
Prescription orders are a daily task at any practice. A robust patient portal that lets patients order their own refills with your online transfer will result in a lot of saved time from phones calls to pharmacies and patients.

Have you implemented a patient portal?  Comment below and tell us what improvements you’ve seen.