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Integrating and Managing a Patient Portal

When it comes to the patient portal, most medical practices are at a fork in the road. Practices are either considering a patient portal but not sure if it will be effectively used by patients, or they currently have a patient portal and believe it could be better utilized by more patients.

With these two scenarios more prominent than ever, it seems like a good time to address initiating and managing the patient portal from a risk management perspective.

As with any venture, you should first understand and define why you have or want a patient portal. 

Opportunities associated with the patient portal

From an opportunity risk perspective, when used properly, patient portals encourage communication with the office from anywhere, at any time. Thus, patient portals can reduce administrative communication burdens and enhance patient satisfaction.

Patient portals can provide patients with the opportunity to:

  • Access their health records and tests results
  • Fill out forms
  • Schedule appointments
  • Securely message the office 
  • Provide patient specific education materials

However, if you do not have the appropriate safeguards in place, these opportunities can be adverse – leading to low or infrequent use, or to liability issues. To help with this, your practice should have internal policies and procedures addressing the portal and portal communications.

Patient portal safeguards

Safeguards of which you should be aware, and where we recommend outside specialists (to include your EHR vendor and business/healthcare attorney), include:

  • System security.
  • Non-repudiation (confirmation of authenticity of user providing the information, i.e. no sharing of passwords).
  • Verification of delivery/receipt.
  • Labeling and transmission of sensitive information based on state/federal privacy regulations.
  • Disclaimers.
  • Alerts for confirmation the messages are read within a certain time period.
    • If messages are not read within a designated time period, a follow up phone call should be initiated.
    • If a read receipt is not available through your portal, any response which might affect the treatment plan/protocol should be followed up with a phone call to confirm receipt. This should also be documented accordingly.

For a detailed overview of legal risks and disclaimers which should be considered, visit Going Live with a Patient Portal – Legal Risks and Operating Documents.

Tips to increase the use, satisfaction and safety of patient portals

Some tips for getting more patients to use the portal, and to enhance patient satisfaction and safety are:

  • Include an expected turn-around time for email responses.
  • Respond promptly – prioritize messages.
  • When appropriate, respond to an email with an email to encourage continued use.
  • Determine whether images are supported by your portal platform and clearly explain that.
  • Make sure responses are professional, appropriate and in plain language (5th grade reading level).
  • Include a signature block for the provider with appropriate contact information.
  • All staff, including physicians, should promote the portal at every patient encounter.
  • Monitor usage and solicit feedback from those using the portal (monitor patients, caregivers and staff).
    • If results are positive, share those comments with nonusers to encourage their use.

For additional information in getting your portal more use, read 5 steps to maximize your patient portal and boost practice efficiency.

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