7 Ways Physicians Can Save Money Using the Patient Portal

Sandra Levy

Disclosures

May 01, 2018

In This Article

Increase Revenue With Medical Consults

6. You Can Conduct Online Medical Consults

Online consults are gaining in popularity; and insurers, such as Blue Cross in North Carolina, are beginning to cover such visits. Physicians who wish to do so can increase their revenue by offering these consults through the patient portal during and after hours and on weekends, thereby competing with urgent care clinics.

McNeill offers online consults for fairly common problems such as urinary tract infections, colds and coughs, and poison ivy and has found that, in addition to increasing revenue, patients like the convenience.

McNeill's portal has patient interview software. Patients type in what they're concerned about in a specialized questionnaire, and McNeill responds within 2 hours. If he provides a consult, he charges $35.

"The patients who appreciate this are adults who work and don't want to take off for a fairly simple or less complex issue. They like not having to come in. I can get enough information in the questionnaire, so I feel safe about treating them on an outpatient basis," says McNeill.

Practices that stand to gain the most from offering online consults are those that struggle with availability.

"If patients have trouble getting in for same-day appointments when they're ill, this is a great way to make your physicians more accessible," says McNeill.

Azalea Health's EHR offers an integrated telehealth solution that's activated from the patient portal. "We have a lot of providers who use it as a cash-only transaction," explains Berkeley. "On average, physicians are offering cash telehealth appointments and charging from $30 to $50 per visit. It's a little extra money and keeps the patient with them, versus the patient going to urgent care on weekends or after hours."

Berkeley explains that, "physicians are able to take their notes within another window that pops up and that has the patient's picture in it. They can invite other people to join, such as an elderly patient who wants a family member to participate, or in a rural environment they can connect the call with a specialist who lives in a larger city. It will also record and save everything in the document section, which is accessible from the patient portal, so they'll have a permanent record of that call."

Moghadas believes that practices will offer more online consults because patients are willing to pay for the convenience, and the competition is heating up. "Concierge practices offer it. Google Doc is out there. Amazon is talking about bringing doctors onboard to do consults. If I can pay $100 or $200 a year to get online support for my questions, I would be happy with conference calls over the computer instead of sitting in an office," she says.

If you're considering online consults, be sure to check the laws in your state that deal with telehealth visits.

7. A Portal Can Help Increase Referrals

"When the portal is used well, it greatly enhances the patient-physician relationship," says McNeill, who recalled a patient who has chronic migraines. "He was having a difficult migraine in the middle of the night. In the past, he would have to make a phone call the next morning and be worried all night. Instead he logged on and got an appointment at 9 pm for the next day. He was so grateful he could do that."

Finally, Moghadas advises physicians, "Get on board with the patient portal. Even if you're nearing retirement, make your life happier these last few years, and make more money at the end and make it easier."

Why Some Physicians Dislike the Portal

Many physicians prefer to stay away from a portal. Some are concerned that it will generate more work, confuse patients, alienate nonusers, and increase health disparities, according to a study by Wake Forest University. The study, which appeared in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, also found that clinicians had expected that few older and disadvantaged patients would use a portal, which may explain why some physicians who treat patients in these demographic groups have avoided creating one.[7]

Physicians in solo or small group practices may not be able to afford to purchase and maintain EHR systems with integrated portals. Others worry that if they allow patients to exchange messages via the portal, they'll be bombarded with messages.

"They look at it as an intrusion," McNeill says. "For me, that's not the case. I've been doing this for 5 and a half years, and I answer 5 to 15 portal messages a day. I spend half an hour on portal messages, but that's a half hour well spent enhancing the physician-patient relationship."

McNeill added, "EHRs have calloused some physicians towards technology because our lives aren't necessarily easier because of EHRs. But with the portal, we're finally hitting pay dirt. This is where electronic technology really starts to help us."

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