Studies show that patient portals enhance patient engagement, satisfaction and retention while increasing medication adherence, disease awareness, self-management of disease and preventive treatment:
The Wired Patient: Patterns of Electronic Patient Portal Use Among Patients With Cardiac Disease or Diabetes
The effect of patient portals on quality outcomes and its implications to meaningful use: a systematic review
Patient Portals Facilitating Engagement With Inpatient Electronic Medical Records: A Systematic Review
Reduced administrative burden:
With the current staff shortages, staff time is even more valuable and critical. A patient portal can be used to streamline office staff time spent trying to reach patients for appointments, verification of dental benefits and payment. This frees up front office staff to address patients in the office or with emergency needs.
Improved communication between office and patients:
Patient portals can expedite office communication with patients. Portals allow patients to send messages directly to the dental practice at any time and are not limited to office hours, thus reducing the chances of miscommunication. They can also alert the dentist of possible emergency appointments needed daily before the office even opens for business.
Patients can use the portal as a self-serve tool to schedule an appointment, request an appointment change, update information, see if the dental plan submitted payment for recent treatment and submit payment. Patients are more informed overall and able to keep track of their medical and dental information.
Use this list to evaluate your practice’s need for a patient portal and best practices to implement the portal for your staff and patients.
First, figure out what challenges you need your patient portal to solve. To do this, survey your staff to see what hurdles they experience with patient care and communication to see if a patient portal will help alleviate some of those pain points.
Identify the features your patients will utilize. It is important to make sure most of your patients will adopt this system if you are going to implement it. No two portal systems are alike, so figure out what your patients would utilize in the patient portal. For example, do patients expect to be able to “check in” for appointments on their smartphones? Do they expect to complete forms and update health history forms through the portal? What about payment and verifying dental benefits? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to send a link to all patients around the first of the year with a link to verify if benefits have changed and provide a way for patients to enter their new dental benefit information if their benefits did change?
Determine the capabilities of individual portal providers. Ask your practice management software company if it offers a patient-portal feature. If it does, find out what is included in the patient portal and determine if the portal aligns with the services you would like to offer.
If your PMS company does not offer an internal patient-portal option, ask which patient portals the company recommends and/or which patient portals its software is compatible with. You do not want to spend time and money implementing a new patient portal to later discover it does not work well with your PMS system.
If your PMS company does not have an internal patient-portal option, start researching external vendors that are compatible with your system. Have your questions ready, and make sure the features you have identified as important to your staff and patients are offered.
Once you have made the decision to move forward, follow steps to ensure you are compliant with HIPAA security standards. Identify where data is stored, conduct a risk assessment, establish access control, ensure transmission security, implement audit and integrity controls, update written policies and procedures, execute a HIPAA business associate agreement, etc. – see HHS Security Guidance. Examples of security measures include: multi-factor verification for patient access, auto log-off period, initial enrollment at office visit (prevents fake accounts), log-in monitoring, strong and regular employee security training (employees are the biggest cyber risk in any setting), encourage patient use of strong passwords, a plan for rapid response and containment of suspicious incidents and breaches.
Update your practice’s HIPAA Notice of Privacy Practices to include general information on the patient portal, including what information is and is not accessible by the patient.
If the portal can provide access to patient records, ensure this function is turned on. The federal information blocking rule prohibits all health care providers from impeding patient access to their electronic information.
If patients will use the portal to sign consent forms and other documents, verify portal compliance with e-signature requirements. See the Electronic Signatures article.
If your practice will accept payments through the portal, verify its compliance with PCI data security standards and update your office’s written policies.
Communicate availability of the portal to your patients with instructions on how to establish access. A patient cannot be required to utilize the portal for communication with the practice.
Some key questions to ask potential patient-portal providers include: What are the security features and options of the portal? What are the system requirements? Who is responsible for certain security measures, such as log-in and system monitoring and deploying software patches?
Many patient-portal features are optional. Each practice should evaluate their specific needs and wants of both the dental teams and patients. However, every portal you consider should at the very least offer the following:
Two-way secure messaging.
Compatibility with your existing PMS system.
Third-party integration with imaging and radiograph software.
Mobile-device compatibility. Is the website responsive on a mobile device? Or is there an app the patient downloads to a mobile device?
Ability to link from your website/app/social media platforms.
Ability to implement with little to no effort from you or your staff (remote access to set up the system on your office computers)
Training for your staff and strong customer support for questions and troubleshooting.
Privacy. Make sure the portal allows for treatment notes to be marked or tagged as confidential with the note not viewable by the primary account holder. For example, if a 17-year-old patient is pregnant and does not want their parent or guardian (the primary account holder) to know.
Ability for patients to opt-out. Must be able to make accommodations for patients who do not want to use the portal.
Ability to flag records to change access privileges when a patient turns 18.
Access to the Notice of Privacy Practices.
In addition to the must-have features, patient portals offer many customizable options to meet the needs of the practice. Here are some features a patient portal may offer, which are not mandatory.
Access to patient records, treatment plans and referrals to specialists and other providers.
Access to patient appointments and scheduling (either with appointment options or the ability to text/e-mail the office for appointment availability).
Patient appointment confirmations and reminders.
New patient intake forms.
Patient health history intake and updates.
Patient account information – contact information, account balances.
Patient dental benefit plan information, including the ability to verify if a plan has pre-authorized treatment or paid a claim.
Communication with the dental practice and/or dentist in case of an emergency.
Telehealth visit capabilities.
Patient invoices and virtual payment collection.
A patient portal system can provide increased efficiency within your office and benefit patients with online services and improved communication. Ensure your investment in a new patient portal software system will be worthwhile by carefully considering the needs of your patients and office staff.
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