Self-Service: The Newest Practice Time-Saver

Mark Crane


September 07, 2012

In This Article

The Business Side of Medicine Becomes More Efficient

The portal also helps practices collect from self-pay patients for deductibles and copays. "If the patient leaves the office without making a payment at the time of visit, we have scripts for the staff to use, reminders about balances," Harvey says. "We include the explanation of benefits within the portal for the patient to see. Patients then notify the practice if they think something is amiss."

The San Antonio Orthopaedic Group, with 23 physicians, 280 employees, and more than 100,000 patient visits annually, has used Athenahealth's Communicator system for more than 2 years. "Patients get automatic statement reminders and can pay their bills via the portal," says Chief Operating Officer Chris Kean. "This has improved our ability to collect and has streamlined the billing process. Calls to the local help desk have dropped by about 1500 per month, saving significant staff time and money."

Jeff Drasnin, MD, a pediatrician in a 5-doctor group in Cincinnati, has had similar success. "A fair bit of money comes into the practice via the portal. It makes it easy for patients to pay their bills, and many patients like online bill paying."

Save Time on Drug Refills, Lab Results, and Appointment Scheduling

One of the main reasons patients like the portals is the ability to pick up their lab results, says David Harvey. "You give patients greater access to their information in a more timely fashion. That drives patients to use the system."

Athenahealth has about 650 physician practices, mostly in small to mid-sized, using their portal offering. "We have 620,000 patients registered for the portal, and that's only 25% of the active patient panel. Last June alone, there were 362,000 different patient interactions: picking up lab results, sending or replying to a message, scheduling an office appointment, looking up directions, looking up and printing out vaccination records for schools and summer camps, etc.

"We promote self-service by patients, and that cuts down on thousands of phone calls and letters to the practice," he says.

Medication refills and lab results are handled more efficiently through a portal, says Kristin Lau, MD, a family physician with Desert Ridge Family Physicians of Phoenix, Arizona. "Patients go on the portal and can select what they need. Since the portal is directly linked to the electronic medical record, the system pulls up their medications and they can just select the one to be refilled. It avoids the common spelling errors that can cause so much trouble.

"We'll send an email through the portal about lab results within 12-24 hours," she says. "We don't post the actual values in our practice. We'll just say if they're normal. Of course, we'll call if the values are abnormal. Most of this is done at the click of a mouse. The same applies for follow-up. I can click a button for 'Pap normal -- 3 years,' meaning the test was normal and should be repeated in 3 years."