Patient portal gives access these benefits

Productivity is increased

Making or rescheduling appointments, accepting outstanding balances, or discussing scheduling were once tasks that could be handled by patient access employees only during business hours, but this situation has changed at University of Pittsburgh (PA) Medical Center.

Patients now request appointments online, view scheduled appointments, and reschedule appointments with a real-time online chat with a scheduling agent. They also can view and pay physician and hospital bills.

“Patients have one place to go to interact with both clinical and business personnel,” says Jennie Bartko, director of revenue cycle and patient access.

Advanced scheduling functionality is being rolled out department-by-department, which allows return patients to schedule their own appointments online. “Practice selection and patient scheduling patterns are important when beginning to deploy this feature,” Bartko says. Of the two pilot groups — a primary care practice and a neurology practice — patients at the primary care office used self-scheduling more often. “We found the neurology patients return at more regular intervals,” says Bartko. “They tend to schedule the next appointment with the specialist upon check-out.”

Use of the direct scheduling option continues to grow as more physicians implement the process. More than 15 new practices have implemented online scheduling in the past six months.

Physicians were concerned that patients would not be scheduled correctly if patients were able to place themselves on the schedule, which was not the case. “The other concern was emergent patients scheduling themselves for an appointment and not seeking immediate treatment,” says Bartko. “Patients complete a short structured questionnaire to help guide them through their self-scheduling activity.”

Transactions increasing

Patients can make a single payment that is applied to open balances across multiple account statements. “Online bill payment has shown an increasing trend in both number of transactions and associated dollars over the past year,” reports Bartko.

If patients have questions regarding their bill, they can send a secure message or participate in an online chat with a customer service agent. Patients receive an email letting them know when new information and messages are available for them to view in the patient portal. “As part of the scheduling and registration process, patients are queried to provide or confirm their email address. This is housed as part of their demographic information,” says Bartko.

Because patients are completing many of the tasks previously performed by patient access staff, there is reduced call volume for clinical and business reasons. This change frees up employees for other tasks such as educating arriving patients, reconcile patient liabilities, and providing assistance to patients who are unable to pay.

“Expediting flow at the front desk allows you to move the patient into the clinical care pathway more quickly,” says Bartko. “Future portal functionality will include online pre-registration; self-pay estimation for co-pay, coinsurance, and deductible amounts; and a simplified online account creation process.”