Will doctors use the Patient Portal?

If the headline on this post looks familiar, that’s because it’s only one word different from a post Omedix CEO Josh Padnick authored a few months ago.

You’ll recall (and if you don’t recall you can read it here) that Josh asked if patients would use the portal, and his answer, based on research and personal observation, was a resounding yes, as long as the practice promotes the portal.

Today I’m looking at the opposite side of the puzzle  – examining what practices can do to get all their physicians up and running on the patient portal – because the true benefits of the tool can only be realized when both staff and the doctors are on board.

Whenever people are faced with the prospect of something new, the nearly universal response is “What’s in it for me?” So our first order of business is outlining why the patient portal and patient engagement matter to doctors.

Benefit #1: More Efficient Workflow

Practices that have implemented the portal tell us their doctors are most appreciative of the fact that it actually improves their workflow. This is most evident in the handling of patient questions where it takes about one minute using the portal as compared with about five minutes each using the phone.

Of course, patient portals often require training for doctors and staff.  Patient portal companies like Omedix generally help train the physicians and office staff on the patient portal software so that doctors are clear on how to use the new workflows.

Benefit #2: Reduced Call Volume

Josh recently met with a cardiology practice that set a goal of cutting their 500,000 yearly patient phone calls in half. Physicians were frustrated that their staff were always on the phone and got excited about using the portal to replace many of those phone calls. They expect that communicating through the portal will boost the efficiency and clinical quality of practice-patient communications, thereby helping to control office costs while making life more convenient for patients. Even the patients who still prefer the phone are expected to be happier with less time on hold.

Benefit #3: Meaningful Use Compliance

The doctors will also be interested to know that, starting in 2014, a patient portal is a requirement to meet Meaningful Use Stage 2. Not only must you have a portal, but you must be able to show that it’s being used: MU Stage 2 requires minimum levels of utilization by both patients and the practice, so it’s a good idea for doctors to get used to it sooner rather than later.

Plus, the ability to communicate with patients by HIPAA-compliant online messaging will add a new level of comfort for doctors who may have been using regular email. Portal-EHR integration also assures that doctor-patient communications are easily documented.

Benefit #4: Appear Progressive

Finally, one more motivating factor is that while they’re increasing efficiency and assuring compliance, doctors also want to be seen by present and prospective patients as up-to-date with technology.

Building Physician Adoption

Once the doctors are on board, what kind of patterns do we observe about adoption? Interestingly, we usually find that the doctors are either thrilled about their new patient portal or completely apathetic about it. Then some event happens – they talk to a colleague, a patient complains, they see a competitors using it – and suddenly interest surges. And then they want every question answered immediately.

In addition to our customer support program, we’ve found that a good way to help doctors get comfortable with the portal is to make sure their physician extenders (Medical Assistant or others) are trained in advance. That way, when the doctor is ready to take the plunge, the trusted associate standing right next to her can provide the tips that make it easy.

So the answer to the question “Will doctors use the Patient Portal?” is yes, once they experience the workflow, have access to an in-office portal guru, and understand the benefits of embracing patient engagement.

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