Your Top 5 Patient Portal Questions Answered

Lea Chatham April 24th, 2014

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As a follow up to our recent webinar, The Patient Portal: Meaningful Use, Engaged Patients and More, speaker Laurie Morgan and Kareo have answered the many questions posed by participants. Here are the five top questions posed by attendees:


Q: Are there any tips for implementing a portal in a place where patients don’t always have access to the Internet readily available?
A:  Even when patients don’t have computers, many will have smartphones—so check with your EHR/portal vendor to learn what kind of support for mobile devices is (or will be) available for your portal.

Setting up one or more computers in your reception area that patients can use to access the portal may be another solution. It will be important, though, to be sure the computers are a bit segregated to allow for privacy. The system should automatically log patients off after a brief period of inactivity, and other available measures should be implemented to protect personal information. (Check with your vendor(s) before setting up a public computer.)

Q. How do you identify the uninformed patients and reach them?
A: Providers and nursing staff are often in the best position to identify patients who are timid, discouraged, or overwhelmed.

It may be useful to designate a staff person to provide a bit of extra support and coaching to patients who are intimidated by the patient portal. Tweet This

Many practices are designating a clinical staff member—often an RN—as a care coordinator or case manager as part of the medical home (PCMH) certification effort. This person will also be in a perfect position to identify uninformed, unengaged patients and help get them on board—since coordinating care across multiple providers and engaging patients with chronic conditions more directly is a key focus of the medical home.

Q. Do text or email reminders meet the MU2 requirement for secure communication with patients?
A:  Text and email don’t typically meet HIPAA standards on their own (although some email providers do state that they offer HIPAA compliant encryption). For this reason, it’s usually not advised to use text or email as two-way communication with patients. Instead, secure communications should take place via your portal, and use the secure messaging functionality built into the portal and your EHR. This way, patients can respond securely—which is the key to meeting the 5% threshold requirement. Email can be used to remind people and direct them to your portal to receive their secure messages and respond.

Q. We have many patients who have a family caregiver. Can caregivers access the patient portal for their family member? Are there any privacy issues we need to consider?
A:  HIPAA allows for sharing of information with family members and other authorized caregivers. Be sure to get authorization from the patient to share the information via your portal.

Q: We have a lot of elderly patients who do not have computers or Internet access. How can we meet the requirements for MU?
A: One important thing to do is not assume that elderly patients aren’t online. In the early years of the Internet, older people were slower to adopt, but they’ve been making up for lost time in recent
years. Recent Pew Research data shows that more than half (57%) of Americans over 65 years old are online, and nearly 90% of those 50-64. Also, many caregivers are online (see answer above). A bigger obstacle for older people may be convincing them that using the portal will be better for them.

When introducing the portal to older patients, emphasize the features that are likely to help them most: the ability to set appointments without waiting on hold, more convenient access to prescription refills, and the option to provide access to a family member caregiver are examples of portal features that might be more compelling to an older patient. Additionally, doctors can play a critical role with older patients, who may be more likely to follow physicians’ instructions to the letter.

If you missed this informative event, you can view the recording or download the slides. And consider joining us for the next free webinar from Kareo, Your Medical Office Software: Coding Pitfalls & Promises.

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