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Is your practice running as efficiently as possible? Discover tips and insights that can help streamline your practice management.

Patient portals and secure online communication

The health care industry has been slower than most to take advantage of digital technology. Yet, according to a 2013 Pew survey1, 85% of Americans use the Internet, 59% of Americans have searched for health information on the Internet in the past year and 35% used the Internet to try diagnosing a condition.

In an attempt to meet the digital need evident in this data, online communication with patients is now being driven by health care reform. Meaningful Use stage 2 requires at least 5% of patients to view, download or transmit their electronic health records online.

Online communication with patients is already being met with great success in many practices via patient portals. A patient portal is a secure, online website that enables patients to receive and provide information about their health securely, at any time. Early on, Kaiser Permanente researched and developed a patient portal that managed to exceed expectations:

At first, prescription refills, a facility directory and educational materials were the most popular features on the site… But in 2006, when [personal health record] (PHR) functions such as online test results and the ability to e-mail a doctor's office became available, the number of website registrations jumped from 9% to 27%... By 2007, the most widely used features, in order, were lab results, prescription refills and electronic consultations with physicians.2

Besides these features—which continue to be popular—today’s patient portals foster a greater level of online communication by enabling patients to:
  • Schedule appointments
  • Download forms and complete them online
  • Check insurance benefits and coverage
  • Update contact information
  • Make payments
  • Access documentation of recent visits, discharge summaries, medications, immunizations and allergies
  • View health education materials
Online communication with patients is not just convenient for the patients, but also advantageous for the practice.

Because patients can update their contact information, schedule appointments, access normal lab results, request prescription refills, get answers to basic health information questions, and communicate with providers via secure messaging, practices can significantly reduce the number of time-consuming calls they receive from patients.

When forms are completed prior to visits, patients can move into the examining room more quickly, thereby providing a better patient experience and a more efficient clinical workflow.

The ability to make payments online (available with virtually any other kind of transaction today) offers greater convenience for the patient and reduces the time and expense a practice invests in medical billing.

Medical consultant Graham Brown sums it up this way:

[Patient portals] allow for those key values we're driving toward: greater patient compliance, greater patient connection to a health care system, and greater responsibility for taking care of themselves and knowing what needs to be done to remain healthy and improve their health.

1 “Health Online 2013,” Susannah Fox & Maeve Duggan, January 15, 2013, Pew Internet, Pew Research Center,

2 “Patient Portal Explosion Has Major Health Care Implications,” Ken Terry, iHealthBeat, Tuesday, February 12, 2013

3 Ibid.

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