Self-Service: The Newest Practice Time-Saver

Mark Crane


September 07, 2012

In This Article

Getting Patient Interactions Into the Medical Record

Practices that have their portals tethered to an EHR system are the most successful, said Thomas Handler of Gartner Inc. "This way, the clinical data within the portal are the same as in the EHR. That exchange about OTC drugs is recorded in the system on the patient's records."

Pediatrician Jeff Drasnin, MD, agrees. "The portal helps us keep better track of lab results and tests," he said. "As part of the EHR, there's a closed loop on the labs we've ordered and received. It tracks it much better than what we did on paper. Before, we'd send out a strep culture and tell the patient to assume it's normal if you don't hear back from us. Now it's tagged and we can track it to alert patients of all results.

"We know when patients go on the portal to pick up their results," he said. "That's good medical care and it helps us in terms of liability. We can confirm that our messages to the patient are received. Also, the portal allows us to do outreach to remind patients when it's time for the next well-baby visit and other follow-ups."

Meeting Meaningful-Use Requirements

Under the Affordable Care Act, physicians are required to provide a clinical summary of each visit to at least 50% of their patients within 3 business days. Upon request, practices must provide half of their patients with electronic copies of their health information, including lab results, medications lists, etc.

The top EHR systems can generate a standardized clinical summary.

"We can do this at the push of a button," said Dr. Lau. "Here's a summary of your high blood pressure and here's my plan. With a portal, it becomes an easy task."

Costs Are Typically Reasonable

The costs of implementing a portal can be a little hard to pin down because the portals are usually integrated in an EHR or practice management system. Athenahealth, for example, provides an EHR; practice management system for registration, collections, etc.; plus a portal. They charge a percentage of the practice's billings.

Other systems, such as, may charge a set-up fee and then a monthly fee per doctor, often as low as $50.


Physicians say that the portals increase patient satisfaction and practice efficiency while improving clinical care.

"If we're going to survive in a small business practice, we need to stay ahead of the next guy," said Dr. Drasnin. "We're providing something the next guy doesn't. We get many referrals because patients hear about the portal. It wasn't our intention, but it's become a word-of-mouth marketing tool."