Patient Portals Help Improve Communication

By Illis, George G. | Medical Economics, December 25, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Patient Portals Help Improve Communication


Illis, George G., Medical Economics


PERSPECTIVE

They also can build efficiencies for patients

As quality-based reimbursement metrics roll out and new provisions of the Affordable Care Act take effect, new tools to improve efficiencies and engage patients will become increasingly important to help office-based practices thrive, and, in some cases, survive.

Adding a patient portal to your practice Web site is one avenue that can help you engage patients in entirely new ways. In fact, the portal experience opens up secure communication with patients and is reported to improve adherence and streamline administrative functions.

An Internet-based portal could serve as a patient's virtual, secured, gateway to your practice. Patients can review and pay bills, request appointments, research health topics, review personal health information, complete medical forms, and update their profiles and contact information.

In just the past few months in launching my patient portal through athenahealth, close to 40% of my active patients have used the tool.

In a survey released in mid-December by research firm KLAS, about 57% of providers interviewed already have a patient portal in place, and more options are becoming available for physicians by a multitude of electronic health record (EHR) system vendors as a way to facilitate doctor-patient communication via a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act-compliant platform. Although interacting with patients electronically will be a meaningful use stage 2 requirement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' incentive program for physicians to adopt EHR systems, this interaction also is being driven by patient demand. And a growing body of scientific literature demonstrates that this communication tool can improve patient care, simply because it helps engage patients in managing their own health.

In a recent study by Delbanco et al. published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers invited patients to read their doctors' notes. Of 5,391 patients at three sites who opened at least one note and completed a post-intervention survey, 77% to 87% reported that access to the notes helped them feel more in control of their healthcare. Sixty percent to 70% of those taking medications reported increased adherence. At the same time, however, 25% to 36% of the patients participating in the study expressed concerns over privacy.

A white paper prepared for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) by Jonathan WaId, MD, MPH, and Lauren McCormack, PhD, MSPH, of RTI International, describes the use of technology as a communications tool this way: 'Tatient empowerment through an active role in health activities and decisions can be advanced through the use of consumer-facing health technology, although much work is needed to promote increased patient use, demonstrate the impact of appropriate technology through research and experience, and motivate individuals to more effectively engage and collaborate in health and healthcare activities."

And in many cases, improved communication between physician and patients opens up new collaborative paths to improve health outcomes.

The aforementioned HIMSS white paper, titled 'Tatient Empowerment and Health Information Technology," said it this way: "For patients with sufficient motivation, technology can lower the barriers to taking action. Health professionals can provide important support to their patients by educating and encouraging them in the use of appropriate technology for health. Patients, their caregivers, and the entire health team have an opportunity and a responsibility to share new technologies, gain experience, and learn from one another."

We have entered an era that allows patients easy access to their medical records. They can now simply view their x-rays and computed tomography scans, look at their electrocardiography results, and read consult reports from other specialists on a secure server.

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