Patient Portal: the Gateway to Patient Centered Care and Meaningful Use

Patient Portal: the Gateway to Patient Centered Care and Meaningful Use

Healthcare reform, whether it’s HITECH or impending ACO legislation, will have a large impact on patients.  One of the government’s health care policy priorities is to use technology to engage patients more in the health care process.  The theory is that patients will need to be a part of the care model to truly transform the healthcare system, improve quality, and make care more efficient.

To achieve this goal, HITECH requires doctors to give patients electronic access to their healthcare information and to engage them in their care.  If patients have a role, they can improve care coordination and be an active participant in their care.  They can ask better questions and provide better feedback to their healthcare team, which should improve care and reduce costs.

To engage patients in their care and give patients electronic access to their health information, a practice will need to implement a patient portal that integrates with their EMR. As the final stages of Meaningful Use are finalized and rolled out, the requirements for engaging patients in their care will increase, making patient portals a larger part of the overall solution.

For example, in Stage 1 of the Meaningful Use criteria, doctors are required to give a subset of their patients timely electronic access to their health information, clinical care summaries of their office visit, and specific educational resources based on their disease using certified technology.  The proposed requirements in Stage 2 and 3 require doctors to provide more patients with their health information and clinical summaries but also engagement tools like online secure messaging and care management tools. Patients will need a user-friendly patient portal to access this data.

Patient Portal: An Opportunity to Engage Patients in their Care

At a minimum, a patient portal is a web based entry point for patients to access their electronic health records via a secure user name and password. An important factor to keep in mind is this will be a consumer facing extension of your brand. It should have a simple user interface and be easy to navigate. You don’t want your staff to have to act as IT support because your patients are having difficulty accessing their information.

More than just a log in page with read only health information, however, a patient portal can also be used for the following:

  • Online registration system, replacing paper forms
  • Communication platform for secure messaging, replacing missed phone calls
  • Conduit for social networking and support group connections
  • Financial window for patients to review and pay bills
  • Library for delivering patient education materials, replacing paper packets
  • Tool for engaging patients in their recovery process via helpful care management tools.

Some of these features will be necessary to meet the Meaningful Use criteria, while others build on the potential that Meaningful Use seeks to encourage by using modern technology to put patients at the center of the care model while making your practice more efficient. If implemented correctly, a patient portal has the opportunity to streamline a practice and make the care delivery process more effective as patients become more engaged.  In fact, a recent study of a participatory care model developed to treat multiple myeloma patients found that this model resulted in superior clinical outcomes. Many of the participatory care methods used in this study can be implemented with a patient portal.

Patient Portal: More Cost Effective Care

In addition to engaging patients in their care, a patient portal can also provide a more costs effective way to deliver care. Providing electronic access to labs, test results, clinical summaries, and asking new patients to complete the registration process online means postage savings by no longer mailing out information.  This basic example illustrates how simple processes can be integrated into a patient portal to save time and money.

Unfortunately, many of the HIT products that are being rolled out have been created only to satisfy regulatory hurdles, rather than improve productivity. During a recent House Small Business healthcare subcommittee hearing, small practices warned Congress that “health information technology risks being less than useless if it’s designed to meet bureaucrats’ arbitrary standards rather than the needs of doctors and patients.”

When evaluating EMR and patient portal solutions, keep in mind the big picture: This technology should provide opportunities to improve care while making your practice more efficient and cost effective, not just solve a regulatory requirement.

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