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Part 1: Unlocking the power — and potential — of the patient portal

Many practices are beginning to enjoy the power the patient portal provides to better engage with patients — even to collect payments. But for Jennifer Cossin, billing manager, it’s the portal’s potential that holds the most promise.

“Honestly, you absolutely need an online presence today,” Jennifer said. “But there are a lot of things that we could do with our portal, but we just don’t … like marketing.”

There are certain best practices providers can adopt immediately to better harness their patient portal’s power, as well as new ways of thinking about how they can make the most of their portals in the near future.

The power to collect

Like many practices, Central Ohio Surgical Association, where Jennifer has worked for 17 years, has been using its patient portal and seeing significant benefits.

One of the ways Jennifer makes the best use the portal now is for patient collections.

Currently, as a biller, Jennifer appreciates how easily she can relay information about her practice’s payment plans and online payment options. Using the portal has directly helped her collect more revenue for her practice.

The practice’s portal allows staff to stay in touch with patients after a change of address or to notify patients when they have an outstanding balance. Many patients, when faced with a large account balance, will feel overwhelmed, thinking that the practice is demanding the entire balance upfront. When they find out that the practice offers a payment plan, though, they are much more likely to tackle the problem and work with Jennifer to pay off their debt over time.

Patient retention

When Central Ohio Surgical Association came back in network with a large subset of their former patients, they used their patient portal to send out an informative message. Just by letting patients know that they were back in network with their insurance plans, Jennifer reported a significant improvement in patient retention.

“That, to me, was pretty fantastic,” Jennifer said. “That was a great way to reach out to patients en masse and let them know without having to lick envelopes.” By using its patient portal, the practice was able to reach nearly 1,000 patients without expending a lot of time or energy.

Patient access outside of office hours

Extending patients more access doesn’t necessarily mean keeping your office open late into the night. “Patients appreciate the ability to access their health information when it’s convenient for them,” said Christopher Swartz, associate product analyst for Greenway Health.

If patients need to update their insurance or residential information, they can do it at their leisure through the portal instead of filling out a lot of paperwork at the office. And, with your patient portal, you can provide patients with information about scheduling, appointments, billing, and other topics at any time of the day or night without adjusting your staff workflows.

“Patients are more connected than ever before,” Swartz said, “Patient portals allow them to access their information when and where they need it. They can easily download this information or send it to whomever they need to.

“Patients expect his type of connectivity from their doctors,” he said, “and those that don’t provide it could ultimately lose patients as a result.”

Your patient portal has potential

While your patient portal has this power now, and you may be taking advantage of all these benefits, there’s even greater potential for improved patient care. From a patient’s perspective, Jennifer told us a compelling story about her husband and his portal experience.

As a truck driver in Ohio, Jennifer’s husband is subject to an annual Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) physical. As a diabetes patient, Mr. Cossin needed to provide the ODOT physician with his latest A1C numbers. Until he could obtain this information, he would not be allowed to work, but with the help of his patient portal, he delivered it to the ODOT physician and was quickly cleared to get back on the road.

This story is especially intriguing because the patient in question wasn’t especially young or tech-savvy. As Jennifer says, “My husband can barely send an email,” but his patient portal worked for him, and he was able to use it to avoid a lapse in work.

The right patient portal can offer your patients instant access to their medical records when they need them. It can give you the ability to reach out to patients at any time of the day or night to offer them updates on their medications and other treatments. And it can offer your practice much, much more…

Do you think you’re using your patient portal to its full potential? The power of the patient portal goes even further than this. In Part 2 of this blog series, we discuss how to market your practice … using your patient portal.