7 Ways Physicians Can Save Money Using the Patient Portal

Sandra Levy

Disclosures

May 01, 2018

In This Article

A Fully Functional Patient Portal Has Benefits

Assuming your patient portal is fully functional and easy to access, the benefits to you and your practice are easy to measure. Let's look at some of these advantages in more detail.

1. Patients Can Reach You Without Tying Up the Phones

Portals that offer secure messaging enable practices to use their staff more efficiently. "It can take 30 seconds to deal with the average patient message, whereas a phone call could take 3 or 4 minutes," says McNeill. "We conservatively estimate that we save at least 10,000 phone calls annually."

In a Kaiser Permanente study on patient-initiated emails to providers, researchers surveyed 1041 patients in Northern California who had chronic conditions such as asthma, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, or hypertension. Survey participants included both patients who had sent and not sent secure email messages through Kaiser Permanente's online patient portal.

The researchers found that although most physicians in the United States don't regularly communicate with their patients electronically, most patients indicate an interest in communicating directly with their physicians online. More than half of respondents in the Kaiser Permanente study (56%) had sent an email within the previous year, and 46% used email as the first method of contact for one or more medical concerns. Among patients who had emailed their healthcare provider, 42% said that it reduced phone contacts, and 36% said that it reduced in-person visits; in fact, 32% reported that being able to communicate via email improved their overall health.[1]

Pros and Cons to Emailing Patients

Still, there are pros and cons to emailing patients.

Not everyone is convinced that email is best. Sam Bierstock, MD, an ophthalmologist, said in a Wall Street Journal article reprinted in a Harvard Medical School blog that he is concerned about the potential for liability when providing care via email. He believes that because physicians can't see a patient's facial expression or body language or hear the tone of their voice, they may misjudge a patient's reaction to news of their condition.[2]

There are other risks that should be considered, too. Because patients are accustomed to getting prompt replies to their emails, physicians run the risk of appearing as though they don't care enough about the patient if they wait a day or more to reply. In addition, email messages with important healthcare instructions can wind up in the patient's junk mail and may not be read. Many physicians are also concerned that patient confidentiality can be compromised if someone other than the intended recipient reads the email.

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