More and more health care providers are using web and mobile applications to communicate with their patients. In 2016, for example, the American Hospital Association reported that 92% of their hospitals provided patients with access to their health data via patient portal applications. These portals offer significant benefits to patients, providers, and administrative teams.
What is a patient portal?
Here’s how the National Institutes of Health’s MedlinePlus site defines it:
A patient portal is a website for your personal health care. The online tool helps you to keep track of your health care provider visits, test results, billing, prescriptions, and so on. You can also e-mail your provider questions through the portal.
- Manage non-urgent appointments
- View your treatment history records
- Manage your information
- Personal information such as address and phone number
- Insurance provider and policy number
- Make payments
- Request prescription refills or referrals to specialists
- Complete forms for your provider
- Ask questions over a secure communication channel
- View lab results
- Get personalized patient-education articles and other resources
- Upload attachments such as a photograph of a rash
- Receive alerts when your provider updates information on the portal
- Use mobile features
How can a patient benefit from using a portal?
Patients like having a direct communication channel with their doctors or other providers. They especially like being able to ask questions between office visits. Since the provider’s response is also posted on the portal, patients don’t have to wait for a phone call. Instead of waiting by the phone for hours, just to make sure they don’t miss the doctor’s call, patients can live their lives and receive the provider’s answer at a convenient time. Both questions and answers can be more specific and detailed.
It’s also convenient for patients to see their history and account balance at a glance. Having access to a patient portal means that patients don’t have to wait for office hours to take care of their needs.
How can a patient portal help provider teams? Won’t it just create more admin work?
Health care staff members work hard. It’s natural for them to be concerned about offering more services to patients, since every new type of service adds to their work load. Rest assured, that’s not the case here.
More detailed and more efficient patient-provider communication
Another common concern among health care providers is whether secure email through a patient portal would lead to overflowing inboxes. That hasn’t generally been the case. Overall, this detailed communication has improved both the quality and efficiency of patient care. In fact, when it comes to office visits, more email communication led to fewer office visits.
Reduced phone volume
Patients who use a portal don’t need to call the provider’s office as often. The portal makes routine chores more convenient, so patients don’t need as much live phone interaction. Even better, responding to emails takes less time for providers and staff than processing and routing inbound phone calls.
Integrated lab results reduce staff work load
Having the ability to import test results is another time saver. Instead of processing a report manually, attaching a physical copy to a patient chart, and calling the patient, staff members can simply import or attach the report to the patient’s portal record. The portal’s automation rules can then notify the patient.
Improved communication improves care and patient outcomes.
With flexible, direct access to data about their health care, patients are more likely to follow their treatment plans consistently. They’re more likely to take their prescription medications correctly. Improved compliance leads to improved health outcomes.
Tailor enhanced features to the type of care provided
There are other ways to make use of a portal’s improved communication. For some patients and providers, a mobile patient portal can be a personal health coach. Depending on the type of care provided, a portal may include a daily check-in for patients to self-report common symptoms and severity by tapping a dropdown menu. It may include behavior modification tools or a place to enter daily weigh-ins for patients in weight loss programs. This type of frequent support can make the difference between success and failure of a treatment program.
Using a patient portal can significantly improve patient care and overall satisfaction. It improves patient-provider communication, streamlines administrative tasks, and centralizes and organizes patients’ charts.
To see a case study of Susco’s patient portal work for Dependency Pain Treatment Centers, click here.