Online patient portals improve work flow, handle multiple functions

April 1, 2010

Internet-based patient portals are Web sites with real horsepower. In addition to posting static information, such as office hours, physician and staff profiles and a list of services, portals deliver functionality to patients. These points of virtual access to your practice generate patient satisfaction because they provide convenient, 24-hour, self-service options to handle many interactions with your practice.

Key Points

Think of a portal as a Web site with real horsepower. In addition to posting static information, such as office hours, physician and staff profiles and a list of services, portals deliver functionality to patients. These points of virtual access to your practice generate patient satisfaction because they provide convenient, 24-hour, self-service options to handle many interactions with your practice.

Consider whether your dermatology practice might benefit from offering a patient portal that can deliver a multitude of functions:

The time it takes your staff to handle those calls - most of which don't require a real-time discussion with you or your clinical staff - costs you money. You also must figure in the staff time it takes to make the outgoing calls to pharmacies, patients and payers that each incoming call generates.

A patient portal chops away at that workload by allowing patients to request prescriptions, and you to handle communications with pharmacies and patients, all online and securely.

Registration. As more paperwork is added to the registration process, the time involved grows. Patients don't like to wait, and, frankly, the 10 to 15 minutes you might spend waiting for them to complete all of the forms doesn't help your productivity, either. Put registration and medical history forms on your patient portal.

Using the portal to facilitate the registration process and gather a patient's history - before they even walk through your doors - streamlines the administrative check-in process, reduces the patient's waiting times and saves you precious minutes.

Bill payment. Tired of throwing away money by mailing statements to patients? Portals offer a great way to ask patients for money without paying the U.S. Post Office. Although there's no guarantee of a higher collection rate, there's most certainly a cost savings to using online bill payment. Plus, patients have been clamoring for this functionality for years. Consider how few businesses are left that don't have online payment options. Don't be one of them.

Test results. Communicating test results to patients is essential to delivering quality patient care, and keeping information-hungry patients knowledgeable. Patients want this information in a timely manner, but the test results communication process consumes time that is not reimbursable. Besides, you need your support staff helping you, not tethered to telephones all day long. Portals make this process run more smoothly by allowing you to report test results to patients securely online. Of course, you still need to get test results back in a timely manner, and positive test results still require a telephone or face-to-face conversation. All the same, a patient portal streamlines and speeds the communication process.

Scheduling. Most dermatology practices using patient portals allow patients to request, but not set, appointments. Even that partial functionality brings enormous benefits, as it liberates the appointment process from the telephone. Patients who don't remember to make the scheduling call until after 5 p.m. can still make contact.

And your staff can respond to requests by e-mail or by telephone to determine a mutually convenient time. Extend the same opportunity to referring physicians, and follow through by delivering your reports back to them electronically. Confirming already-scheduled appointments electronically also saves time and money, plus it reduces missed appointments.