The Patient Portal and Meaningful Use: What You Need to Know

If you are a medical practice trying to meet meaningful use and are wondering how a patient portal fits in to the picture, this is the blog post you have been waiting for!

A Quick Overview of Meaningful Use

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act authorized the US government to spend billions of dollars to incentivize the adoption of electronic health record (EHR) software through the HITECH program. Any “Eligible Provider” at a medical practice can receive up to $44,000 over a 4-5 year period in exchange for using “Certified EHR technology” and meeting the “Meaningful Use” objectives.

The Role of a Patient Portal in Meeting Meaningful Use

The foundation of Meaningful Use is, of course, having a certified EHR system, but there are some objectives that are cumbersome or even impossible to achieve without a patient portal. These fall into two main categories – (1) providing patients with direct access to parts of their health record, and (2) providing patient education.

The specific Meaningful Use measures that a patient portal can help to meet are:

  • To provide patients with…
    • Timely electronic access to changes in health information (Menu Set)
    • Electronic copies of their health record (Core Set)
    • Clinical summaries after each office visit (Core Set)
    • Patient-specific education resources (Menu Set)

During Stage 1 of Meaningful Use (2011 – 2012), Providers have to meet all 15 core objectives and 5 out of the 10 menu objectives. During Stage 2 (2013 – 2014), it is likely that all the menu objectives will become mandatory and that additional requirements will be added.

Timely Access is the Most Important Measure for Patient Portals

In practice, many EHR companies have recognized that their clients want to purchase a patient portal from a third party (versus the EHR company themselves), so we have found that the EHR company will help the practice meet all the measures in Meaningful Use with the lone exception of the Timely Access measure.

One of the most interesting developments in Meaningful Use was when the Office of the National Coordinator clarified that while a practice only has to demonstrate 5 out of the 10 Menu Set measures, the practice must “possess technology” on all Menu Set measures. In other words, even if you don’t plan on demonstrating the Timely Access measure, you still need to purchase technology that is “certified” for it in order to qualify for Meaningful Use. You can learn more at http://questions.cms.hhs.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/10162.

Essentially, this means you must purchase a certified patient portal to meet Meaningful Use.

Looking in Depth at the Other Patient Portal Meaningful Use Requirements

Let’s examine these requirements one by one and see how a patient portal is either necessary or very helpful in meeting that measure.

Timely electronic access to changes in health information (Menu Set)
“More than 10% of all unique patients seen by the EP (eligible physician) are provided timely (available to the patient within four business days of being updated in the certified EHR technology) electronic access to their health information subject to the EP’s discretion to withhold certain information.”

This measure requires the practice to provide patients with real-time access to their electronic health record online. It is almost impossible to demonstrate this measure without a patient portal. The patient portal must integrate with your EHR system and have the capability to give patients a secure online account to view their medical record. The 10% usage requirement further necessitates that at least 10% of all unique patients coming through the practice’s doors sign up for the portal during the demonstration period.

Electronic copies of health records (Core Set)

“More than 50% of all patients of the eligible provider who request an electronic copy of their health information are provided it within 3 business days.”

For this measure, a patient portal is very helpful, but not indispensable. You can send patients a CD, DVD or a USB drive to satisfy the requirement. However, if your patient portal can allow the patient to view their medical record and download an e-copy ot their computer you can save on the costs and administrative burden of mailing and encrypting electronic media with that information.

Clinical summaries of office visits (Core Set)

“Clinical summaries provided to patients for more than 50% of all office visits within 3 business days.”

This measure gives you two non-portal options: 1) print out the summary right after the visit, 2) mail it immediately that evening or the next day, as you only have three business days. This can be a burdensome and expensive process if you have to do it for no less than 50% of all visits. If your patient portal connects to your EMR, it could automatically show the patient their clinical summary after it has been completed and approved! Again, mailing and administrative costs are reduced by using a patient portal to meet this measure.

Patient-specific education resources (Menu Set)
“More than 10% of all unique patients seen by the Eligible Provider are provided with patient0specific education resources.”

Practically speaking, this means that either a person or a computer program has to look into the patient’s record, see what condition they have, and provide a relevant article or video to the patient. Your office staff could manually print an article, mail an article, or let the patient watch a video while in the office. A patient portal that is integrated with an EMR and a patient education database could automatically read the ICD-9 (or soon ICD-10) code associated with the patient’s condition and send the patient the relevant articles.

Patient Portals and Meaningful Use – The Conclusion

To meet the Menu Set item “timely access to changes in health information” you must have a patient portal. For the remaining three measures, a patient portal with the right functionality can save you a tremendous amount of money on staff time, printing costs, and mailing costs, and alleviate general frustration.

If you a are a practice manager, physician, or journalist and want to learn more about how Omedix Patient Portal can help you meet meaningful use, please contact us.

Coming Next

In the next post in our Meaningful Use series, we will explore how to choose a patient portal vendor and how to know if that vendor is certified for meaningful use.  You might also explore our brief write-up on how to get patients to use the patient portal or our discussion of ROI and Patient Portals.

About Omedix Patient Portal

Omedix Patient Portal is a next-generation portal that differentiates itself from the competition by offering a vastly superior user experience, fine-grained customizability, a unique focus on leveraging the patient portal for marketing, and a long-term view to how your patient portal will function in the broader community.  Omedix is a patient engagement company that specializes in patient reminders, medical websites, and online patient check-in.

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