Patient-facing portals can save dentists time and improve the patient experience. In addition, for dental practices looking to receive meaningful use incentives, patient portals can assist in meeting the criteria. (Note that a dental practice must have at least 30% Medicaid patients to qualify.) But what criteria and features are most important for selecting a patient portal vendor?
A number of features have become standard in medical patient portals intended for physician practices, and those features are also of interest to dental practices. In particular:
- Pre-registration. The ability for patients to login from home and enter demographic, patient history and insurance information. This allows for rapid pre-qualification for insurance and improves the flow of the dental experience, reducing check-in time and data entry.
- Medical history surveys. Built-in medical surveys that guide patients through relevant questions like smoking history, heart problems, current medications and why they have scheduled the visit can provide a baseline of information for hygienists and dentists to work with new and established patients.
- Bill pay. Being able to remind patients of bills and have them pay online can increase collections and decrease delays.
- Education and Treatment Plans. For patient care, the discussion of specific at-home treatment steps can be overwhelming in the office. Providing access to a stable information resource that has the needed information and the dental record to track procedures and diagnoses can vastly improve patient knowledge and follow-through. A permanent location for the treatment plan reduces mistakes and memory lapses.
- Tracking Data Sources. A good patient portal tracks who entered what information. Because patients can and should enter information in a patient portal, but are not medical professionals, tracking who entered information is key to interpreting that information. A misspelled or sound-alike medication can lead to bad decision-making, but if it is flagged as a patient entry, a quick conversation may clear up the confusion.
One of the key features of a patient portal is so important as to be almost stand-alone. A patient portal must interface with the dental software system. The goal is not only to improve patient access and experience, but also to integrate that information into a meaningful, useful view for healthcare practitioners.
Michael Uretz is a thirty-year healthcare IT veteran and nationally-recognized Electronic Health Records (EHR) and healthcare software expert.