Patient Portals—I.T. Streamlines Patient Care

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By John Chamberlin

How many times has your office received a complaint regarding how long a patient or patient’s family spent on hold waiting to speak to someone regarding scheduling an appointment?  How much of your office staff time is spent searching for patient records for work or school physicals and vaccination records?

There is no question that healthcare has gone through a number of changes with technology, especially in the past 5 years.  And, as patient satisfaction ratings become increasingly important to the reimbursement process and customer’s expectations for immediate information become part of that satisfaction, electronic access to one’s patient information, in real time, the utilization of patient portals is becoming more relevant and necessary.

Gary Janchenko, Director of Technology for the Pediatric Alliance PC, the area’s largest privately owned pediatric physician’s group, took time to explain his organization’s application and “kick-off” to utilizing patient portals.  “We recognize that, there are many faces to healthcare that are changing. Not just at the hand of legislators.  Take, for instance, patient loyalty. Patients are no longer interested in waiting two weeks or more to see the doctor that they have seen since they were a kid.  They have a problem and they want  it addressed as fast as possible in a manner that will not impact their daily life. Electronic record access through portals can help.”

Gary went to explain a common scenario that was assessed within the Pediatric Alliance where, the parent calls to the pediatrician’s office to schedule a sports physical and cannot get the visit scheduled for a time that is convenient for them due to work and family schedules. The result, the parent may simply choose to have the physical done at the local urgent care center where they can have immediate satisfaction.

“The benefits of a patient portal are many and, from a patient’s standpoint, what’s not to love about it?  Instead of a patient calling to schedule an appointment and being placed on hold for an extended time, the appointment request can be via a secure web connection, the portal.”

There are multiple benefits to the physician’s practice and staff as well.  Given the move to electronic health records (EHR), information such as blood pressure or glucose level trends at home, can be entered directly by the patient.  This not only prompts the patient to be more compliant with taking the readings but also lowers the chances of the patient forgetting to bring the information to their next appointment.

What are the key questions typically of deploying a patient portal?  First is security.  Patient’s and healthcare providers want to be assured that the information is secure and in compliance with the Health Care Privacy Act requirements.  In the Pediatric Alliance portal deployment, the I.T. Department has invested into numerous hours of education to assure all users, internal and external, that the transfer of information is secure.

At this point, the Pediatric Alliance has begun to roll out the use of the patient portal concept at a rate of approximately 1 office location per month.  At this point, Gary states they have seen approximately a 25% adoption rate with the customers, patients/patient’s parents.  Of course, he would have hoped for a higher adoption rate but, according to national statistics of patient portal rollouts, this seems to be about the standard adoption rate, if not a little higher.

The way the Pediatric Alliance sees it, according to Gary, “Retail establishments such as restaurants and other service groups have tried to take and keep their market share by extending hours, launching web-based information and doing whatever then can to provide an excellent customer experience.  With decreasing loyalty trends and lower levels of patience, providers need to realize that patients are no longer interested in sitting in a waiting room because the office is running 30-minutes late on visits.”  An empty waiting room is not necessarily a bad thing if the provider has no patients sitting around due to scheduling and patient documentation efficiencies such as the use of technology, like patient portals.