setting up a patient portal
This series explores ways to tackle the key issues affecting the efficiency of your physicians practice. In the first part, we looked at workflow mapping and how it can help eliminate waste and create value. At the end of the article, we shared some practical examples of how to improve the workflow in your clinic and, as the first example, cited the use of technology. This article explores just that: how technology can help your practice stay competitive by taking advantage of the new technological advances available in the today’s world.
Nowadays, technology surrounds us everywhere and has become part of our reality. It is imperative that the healthcare industry keep pace with the technological innovations in society today. Your practice will not only improve workflow and enhance communication by doing so, but it will also reap greater patient satisfaction from improved efficiency that leads to better patient care. One advance in technology that is helping small practices do just that, and thereby to remain competitive in the industry, is the introduction of a patient portal, the benefits of which can revolutionize your practice.
First, setting up a patient portal helps to improve communication and, therefore, customer care. By improving the communication pathway between provider and patient, the patient portal is enhancing the level of customer service received.
For example, the patient check-in and check-out process is improved if staff are able to give patients their undivided attention. This can be achieved by a decrease in the number of phone calls received by the practice as a result of patient access to the desired information through the patient portal. In addition, patients are able to engage with the practice more effectively and receive care when they want it. For example, they are able to schedule their own appointments, request repeat prescriptions, access their test results, or even communicate directly with their physicians by asking questions or discussing private matters.
Second, setting up a patient portal supports the workflow we discussed in part one. By giving patients ownership of their health records and by automating manual processes such as making appointments, getting test results, or writing repeat prescriptions, the need for staff engagement and extra steps (“waste”) is eliminated, since the patient can now access these services through the portal. Processes are streamlined as the need for administrative staff is reduced, waste is eliminated, and the workflow is made more efficient.
The key to the success of the patient portal is patient participation, and this can be achieved only when awareness of the available technology exists within clinics. Through marketing efforts, such as posters, flyer distribution, and conversations with patients by the physician or administrative staff, adoption of this vital technology can be greatly facilitated.
And even though we know the benefits and the need for patients to engage with the portal, it is imperative that we gain an understanding of how to ensure that patients in our practices are keen to go ahead and adopt this new technology.
Here are some suggestions on how to maximize your patient portal:
- Ensure that the portal is meeting patient priorities and needs and that they are able to do the following:
- Request a service, for example, scheduling an appointment
- Obtain information, such as their health records or test results
- Submit information requested by the clinic, such as an annual data review
- Communicate with clinicians regarding non-urgent issues through, for example, private messaging or a forum for non-personal issues
If you can fulfil these needs of your patients, they are more likely to engage with the system and continue using it.
- Take a good look at how well-integrated the patient portal is into your current workflow map. If it isn’t integrated within the workflow, the portal will be unsuccessful. One of the main reasons patients give up on the use of patient portals is that the providers or physicians do not respond to their communications via the portal, or else they are not able to find the information they need through this technology. Often this happens because the practice has failed to include the patient portal as part of their workflow mapping. For example, part of the administration workflow should be the allocation of staff to respond to communications through the portal.
- Engaging with a pool of patients who can most benefit from the portal can be key in ensuring success. For example, you could make sure that a staff member talks to every patient with a chronic condition to explain how the portal will benefit them and essentially make their lives easier. Having a face-to-face conversation on the benefits as well as a demonstration of how the portal works can be the deciding factor on whether that patient engages with it or not. Although time-consuming, the benefits to your clinic will outweigh the time spent on introducing the portal.
- Once the portal has been introduced, it’s important that it is constantly promoted, whether through visual communication like mailer inserts, posters, and flyers or through verbal communication by the physician during appointments or by staff at reception.
- The final step is constant evaluation of the use of the portal as well as its promotion. How well is it working for both the practice and the patients, and how can its efficiency be further increased?
In the next and final edition in this series, we look at how to improve and manage costs in a physician’s practice.