To streamline the process of getting patient data into your system, web patient portals are one way to collect demographic, registration, and clinical history information directly into practice management and EHR system before a patient even sets foot in the office. Almost all patient portals are cloud or web-based, software-as-a-service systems. Even larger vendors who offer patient portals typically offer them via the web, not as server based installations in the practice. As such, they are out of a dental practice’s immediate control. That can be a big relief–when the patient portal goes down, someone else is responsible. However, the service and maintenance contract with the vendor is incredibly important to ensuring ongoing uptime for patient use.
What are key considerations? First, software-as-a-service is usually a monthly subscription fee, which means that the contract needs to consider exit strategies and how data will be retained if the contract is ended. How can you end a contract with a portal vendor? How quickly would that take place? What transition strategies for data and communication strategies with patients will be in place if that happens? Knowing these potentially hidden costs for time and money can help with budgeting and understanding ongoing and short-term operational costs due to patient portals. The contract should specify exit strategies, information transfer and any communication features that notify patients.
The service level agreement for outages and uptime is also crucial. Dental offices that have patients coming in saying, “I couldn’t access the portal,” then have to find another means to collect information. In addition, the normal workflow is interrupted and the schedule can be thrown off. Further, patients reporting IT problems can make the dental practice look or seem less professional. In addition, no dentist also wants to be tech support, particularly for a system that is off-site and out of their control.
For those reasons, a patient portal contract should specify what happens when outages occur. In particular, response times and communication protocols should be specified. Does the vendor monitor the portal and check for uptime, or do they only respond to technical problems? Do they respond to downtime or outages twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week? What is their typical problem resolution time? If outages are not resolved quickly, is there a penalty to the vendor?
All patient portal contracts should also include exit clauses. If your vendor does not keep up their end of support, maintenance and functionality, your dental practice should have a straightforward way to exit the contract and transfer data to a new system.
Michael Uretz is a thirty-year healthcare IT veteran and nationally-recognized Electronic Health Records (EHR) and healthcare software expert.