As the healthcare industry shifts its focus to Electronic Medical Records, many forward-thinking practices are asking EMR vendors about “Patient Portals.” A portal can be thought of as a gateway or door (in the form of a web interface) to related sets of data, content, and web services. Some well-known portals include Google, MSN, and Yahoo search sites.

Patient Portals typically provide communication services between patients and providers. Providers grant patients access (with a secure username and password) to information through a web connection. Patients can log in to the system to

  • Check appointment schedules
  • Requests an appointment
  • Check lab results
  • Examine statements
  • Request a prescription refill
  • Complete new patient intake forms

Providers can send messages such as appointment reminders, electronic statements, and lab results to patients. Providers can better communicate with their own patients. The attending doctor can easily communicate with patients’ other attending physicians without the potential delay of traditional mail or phone messages. Data is exchanged in a HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) (www.hipaa.orgcompliant and secure fashion. As exponentially more and more physicians adopt Electronic Medical Records they begin to realize the potential benefits of a Patient Portal. 

All too often doctors spend time with patients discussing symptoms, illnesses and providing medical advice for which they routinely do not bill for. Why? Perhaps a fast paced office with a waiting room for patients and falling behind in the day’s schedule; too many things to remember beyond the “Chief Complaint.”

This may be only one potential reason for under coding and subsequent under billing that many doctors say is routine. The doctor’s note in its entirety and the professional manner in which it is ultimately written, documented and adhered to, is the prize. The patient can log on to a HIPAA compliant and secure website and complete much of their pertinent information online prior to their in-person visit. The patient’s data is encrypted. The practice can be sure that HIPAA standards are being met. Please consult with your vendor if you have security concerns. To minimize the learning curve, data can be entered using online forms that look just like traditional paper forms. The forms can be the same forms the practice has been using for years.

Once a physician’s practice has made the conversion from traditional paper charting to the EMR world, it becomes much easier to add a Patient Portal. The practice is the ultimate authority regarding how much data is conveyed to the patient. The patient does not have access to the doctor’s records at any time. The patient only sees what the doctor wants them to see. The physician note remains protected. The office staff enjoys the benefits of the patient portal too. The days of sending the patient a registration packet and hoping it’s complete before the office visit are gone forever. Staff no longer has to wait while the patient fills in all the necessary information. The patient fills out the paperwork in the luxury of their own home. For patients that do not have access to an internet-enabled computer, a touch screen kiosk can be set up in the lobby away from wandering eyes.

New functionality is being added to patient portals. Some EMR vendors that support Patient Portal even have English & Spanish versions with automatic translation built in. Through a quality Patient Portal, the capability exists for test results to be viewed by the patient. This is not to be confused with the newest healthcare product release by Microsoft: the Microsoft Health Vault (Announced October 5, 2007). This product allows an individual to store their own personal health documents in a secure vault. Ideally, the practice using a high-quality Patient Portal allows the patient to upload their records to a central repository. The continuity of care between different doctors of different specialties, in different locations, becomes a reality for the self-help health-conscious consumer.

A web presence is important. A physician practice is a business. Like most businesses, a quality web site becomes your “storefront” to a prospective patient. Acceptance of technology in healthcare is a growing trend. Sites like Web MD  provide the resourceful educated healthcare consumer with a valuable educational resource. Many practices post educational information on their practice web site as a service to their patients. This information does not replace a doctor’s care but serves as a valuable resource to the patient. Consumers are demanding automation and web services in all facets of daily life. The health care practitioner needs to provide these types of services to remain competitive in today’s healthcare market.

For additional information about Electronic Medical Records as well as how to plan, purchase and implement an EMR into your practice.

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