Beyond the In Office Visit: The Benefits of Patient Portals

Do you remember the last time you used a phone book? I mean the actual printed phone book supplied by the phone company. And when I say “phone company” I mean the one that provides hardwired telephone service to your home, not the company that sells the device you keep at hand all day every day; the one that’s so much more than a “telephone,” the one that provides immediate access to anything you might need to know, directions to anywhere you might want to go, and any item you might want to purchase.

It’s probably been quite a while since you let your fingers do the walking the old-fashioned way. It’s not just that technology has changed. We’ve changed. And, by far, the biggest changes that have occurred have to do with our expectations around access and connection. If you’re even moderately Internet savvy, you probably find it annoying if, say, you can’t pay a bill online, or if your favorite store won’t let you return an item the way you bought it. “Why can’t this just be EASY?” consumers lament. Now, have we really become so spoiled and impatient that we can’t do something the old-fashioned way? No. We just expect these things to be efficient these days, because we know they can be. We’ve been using communication technology to make all sorts of experiences steadily more efficient for years. And, anyway, I’d argue that what people – especially patients – want isn’t all that “new-fashioned,” but is, in fact, the opposite. They expect to feel less like a faceless number in a bloated system and have more personalized interactions.

For healthcare providers, technology makes it possible to provide more access and connection to their patients, efficiently, especially with patient portal platforms like Hello Health’s PortalConnect that facilitate secure patient messaging. But some doctors get worried, thinking that patients will forgo office visits in exchange for a quick e-mail, causing a loss in potential consultation revenue. It’s just not true. Allowing patients increased access through portal messaging and telehealth (phone or videoconference) visits does not reduce the number of in-person visits the patients are likely to make. Having the option to connect more efficiently only enhances the provider/patient relationship, and does not decrease the likelihood that patients will visit their doctor in person when necessary. The Mayo Clinic recently conducted a study saying just that:

“…patients who used secure messages frequently did not change the frequency of their office visits and those who sent at least one e-visit message did not change their visit frequency. Patients with comorbid conditions, or chronic conditions, also did not change the frequency of their office visits, even though researchers said they expected this group to decrease the frequency of office visits if patient portal messaging was offered.”

In the case of PortalConnect, patients pay for that electronic access, anyway, via an annual charge. Therein lies the beauty of Hello Health’s revenue-generating EHR model.

In addition to secure messaging, patients appreciate and take advantage of telehealth visits through PortalConnect when they have the option, which can be billed as e-visits through the Hello Health platform. This is something providers should be taking advantage of instead of simply writing off the time spent communicating with patients outside of scheduled appointments. Why? Primary care practitioners spend upwards of 675 hours each year on activities that are not compensated – amounting to over $34,000 in lost revenue opportunities. Those who participate in the government’s Meaningful Use incentive program may find some reprieve, but HITECH payouts will barely scratch the surface in offsetting declining revenues and rising costs for most practices. PortalConnect specifically provides an elegant, mutually beneficial solution for providers and patients. Finally, it’s not that patients merely want an interaction with their doctor to be convenient for them – no patient is going to choose a secure message or telehealth visit when they need in-person medical attention. But having options beyond the in-office visit gives patients improved access to their medical team and thus makes them feel more connected to their providers on a personal level. And what’s more old-fashioned than that?

Have you seen our recent e-book on telemedicine trends? It gives a little insight into how Hello Health physicians are using technology to form even more meaningful connections with their patients, and how they are using Hello Health to ensure they are compensated for their time. Download it, here.

About the Author
Nat Findlay

Nat Findlay is the Founder and CEO of Hello Health, the EHR that offers tools to promote profitability for today’s independent medical practice.