Opening the lines of communication
Once adopted, a portal provides many opportunities for patient engagement. First, there are numerous self-service options that physicians can activate to engage patients. For example, portals allow patients to perform tasks such as:
- accessing lab results,
- requesting prescription refills,
- asking for referrals,
- completing new patient questionnaires,
- paying bills, and
- scheduling and rescheduling appointments
Physicians can also send after-visit summaries to patients via the portal or print them out during the visit. Sara L. Jackson, MD, MPH, medical director of the adult medicine clinic at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, often prints summaries and says patients tell her they appreciate having the information for care coordination purposes.
Many EHR portals offer the ability to send and receive secure emails, says Mandi Bishop, HIT consultant and co-founder of Aloha Knows, a company that helps physicians devise patient engagement strategies. If a vendor doesn’t include this capability, physicians can explore the option of laying a third-party application on top of their EHR technology, she adds.
At Maselli’s practice, patients receive an alert via text or email—depending on the patient’s preference—when a physician sends a message through the portal. Patients then log into their account to view the message securely and send a reply if necessary. Administrative staff members triage these messages so physicians only view those that require clinical input, says Franzetti.
Communication via the portal also augments patient education. Patient education tools are automatically included in EHRs that have been certified using Meaningful Use stage 2 criteria, says Bishop.
For example, most EHRs link diagnoses to related educational material that physicians can download and send directly to a patient’s portal or print during the visit. Bishop says many physicians fail to take advantage of these engagement tools either because they’re not aware of them or because they incorrectly assume it takes too much time to use them.
EHRs also allow physicians to send automated reminders for upcoming appointments, annual exams or to come in for a flu shot. Vendors can help practices easily activate this feature so they can begin to use it immediately, says Oldenburg.