Lower Your Overhead With a Patient Portal


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Patients connecting with your practice through the Internet require fewer staff and generate lower costs.

Fam Pract Manag. 2016 Mar-Apr;23(2):21-25.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliation disclosed.

It is not news that electronic health records (EHRs) are a major cause of job dissatisfaction among physicians.1 Advances in patient portal technology over the past few years, however, have opened numerous opportunities for health information technology to actually improve your office and your job satisfaction. Patient portals, when implemented well, can increase workplace efficiency and reduce practice costs.

When I decided to leave my traditional group practice three years ago and open a solo office, I centered my workflow communication around the patient portal instead of the telephone. The majority of my patients followed me to the new office and have enthusiastically adopted this model. My patient satisfaction scores have never been higher. In addition, my staffing needs have been cut in half; I require only a medical assistant and an office manager to operate my practice. With the reduced overhead, I can maintain the same income while seeing seven to eight fewer patients per day.

Making full use of the patient portal – including automated scheduling, secure patient messaging, and patient engagement – has transformed my practice. The approach I've taken can be emulated by practices of all sizes.

Automated electronic scheduling

Many patients already make restaurant and airline reservations online, and patient portals are increasingly giving them the ability to schedule their own visits. Some portals limit patients to only requesting an appointment. This is quicker than a phone call, but it still requires staff to complete the task. Successfully implementing more advanced portals with full scheduling features can significantly increase efficiency.

My practice uses eClinicalWorks, which we chose after much testing because it is organized in a simple, straightforward way that makes sense to most of our patients. Other products that allow self-scheduling include Epic, athenahealth, e-MDs, and Centricity, as well as third-party portals like Medfusion and Updox, among others.

Virtually all of our patients are expected to schedule their own appointments, a requirement we set from the beginning. Once new patients complete the online registration, we contact them by e-mail with instructions for how to log on to the portal and select their first office visit. Should they have difficulty, we provide assistance by e-mail or phone. The vast majority of our patients require little or no assistance when setting up their first appointment and are quite excited upon arrival at our office that they were able to do so. This would be an easy first step for other practices to take: Ask new patients to enroll and schedule through your portal.

During the patient's first appointment, the medical assistant sets aside 10 minutes to explain the system and

About the Author

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Dr. McNeill is a family physician and owner of Trillium Family Medicine in Asheville, N.C....

He would like to thank John Bachman, MD, Allen Wenner, MD, and Robert Geist, MD, for their guidance in improving this article, and Sue Stigleman for her research assistance.

Author disclosure: no relevant financial affiliation disclosed.



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6. Smith SG, O'Connor R, Aitken W, Curtis LM, Wolf MS, Goel MS. Disparities in registration and use of an online patient portal among older adults: findings from the LitCog cohort. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2015;22(4):888–895.

7. Peckham C. Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2015. Published April 21, 2015. Accessed Oct. 27, 2015. http://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/compensation/2015/public/overview.


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