The Benefits of a Patient Portal for a Medical Practice

 Since early 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been calling for a revision and restructuring of many aspects of the American health system. One such aspect that the ACA has been aiming to restructure is how medical practices have been recording and monitoring health data. Before the ACA, the medical industry was one of the few industries that was still relying on an outdated system of paper records. Since October 1st, 2012, however, in order to qualify for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) incentive payment program, a medical practice must now be up-to-date and exemplifying meaningful use of Electronic Health Records (EHR). One such way to demonstrate meaningful use of EHR is with a patient portal.

A patient portal is a secure online website that a medical practice can implement in order to conveniently give its patients 24-hour access to personal health information. With a patient portal, patients can use a username and password to login and view their own medical information at any time so long as there is an Internet connection. Some examples of information that can be obtained from a secure patient portal are:

  • Recent doctor visits
  • Prescribed medications
  • Discharge summaries
  • Allergies

Many patient portals even allow for secure private messaging between patients and healthcare providers. While patient portal implementation will ultimately improve the communication of information between patients and doctors, there are also many benefits patient portal utilization can provide for a medical practice.

A patient portal will help improve a medical practices effectiveness of care as shown by HEDIS scores. Health Care Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS) is a widely used process within the medical industry to measure clinical performance. This performance measurement is one component of the National Committee of Quality Assurance (NCQA) accreditation process, meaning a higher HEDIS score, the closer a medical practice becomes to the NCQA’s highest accreditation tier of “Excellent”.

 

A study conducted by Kaiser Permanente, focusing on over 35,000 Kaiser patients in Southern California with hypertension, diabetes, or both, showed a direct correlation between patients using a secure patient portal e-mail messaging system and a rise in more effective care as measured by HEDIS scores (California Healthcare Foundation). The study itself focused on patients with these two chronic conditions because of their high frequency of occurrence and cost of care. For the practices implementing a patient portal, the proportion of patients whose HEDIS measurements improved in all measures ranged from 4% to 11%. With a secure patient portal messaging system, these chronic condition patients with high cost of care began to feel as if the quality and effectiveness of care was improving. And while the study did not focus on specifically which components of HEDIS were improved, the researchers who conducted the study suggest the three major facets were continuity of care, doctor-patient connectedness and self-management support.

A patient portal will increase a practice’s productivity. With the information and accessibility provided from a patient portal, ideally patients will become more active, taking a larger role in managing his or her own healthcare needs such as appointment scheduling, paying bills, etc. In return, this will decrease the volume of administrative phone calls and messages a practice receives.

In fact, in 2005, a study conducted by Eric M. Leiderman, MD, MPH, measured the total volume of a clinic’s incoming telephone calls while using a patient portal, compared to a few years earlier when the same clinic was not using a patient portal (US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health). The intervention group averaged 18.2% less telephone call volume than that of the control group. Because of this, the intervention group was able to average about 11% more visits per day and about 10% more Relative Value Units per day than the control group (California Healthcare Foundation).

A patient portal can save a practice money. Patient portals often come with many different functions including private messaging, scheduling, online billing, and more. With such functions handled electronically, a practice can save on both day-to-day expenses, as well as labor costs. In a March 2010 Health Data Management Magazine article, Elizabeth Gardner reported patient portals having saved practices $0.63 every time a practice does not have to mail lab results, $7.00 every time an appointment was scheduled online, and $17.00 every time a billing inquiry was handled online (Health Data Management Magazine). Furthermore, a similar study presented at the 2010 Northwest Medical Informatics Symposium reported that a secure messaging feature of a patient portal could save a practice $0.62 per appointment reminder, $1.75 for every phone call to a patient, and $2.69 for each lab test result delivery (California Healthcare Foundation).

If attempting to qualify for the CMS incentive payment program, it’s necessary for a practice to show meaningful use of electronic health records. Adopting a patient portal will not only help adhere to the incentive payment requirements, but also benefit a practice in many other ways. At Polar Green LLC, we’ve designed a prototype, the Informacio Workstation, that will help support meaningful use of electronic health records, as well as promote other sanctions of the ACA including, but not limited to, shared-decision making and increased patient engagement. To learn more about our mission and what we do at Polar Green, email us at vpaglione@polargreenllc.com.