"It was our reception staff that would tag that onto the end of a conversation, letting the patient know that it was available and hoping to get them signed up at that time," said Claudia Webb, director of business operations at Elmhurst.
In addition to improving patient satisfaction, the convenience of patient portal use is also beneficial to doctors and staff.
"Our physicians are really eager for us to offer even more advanced actions on the part of the patients—not just requesting appointment time, but being able to go in and schedule the appointment time so the patient has even better access," says Mary Stull, Elmhurst's vice president and chief operating officer. The ease of use could ultimately improve referral relations, especially by aiding office staff, Fahl-Watkins says.
"Although a lot of your referrals come through the physicians, a lot of time they're coming through the referral staff—and if they find an office easy to work with they will promote the heck out of you," she says. "If you're a problem office for them, you'll hear them talking to the physician saying, 'I don't know about that office—we can't get through or get our patients in fast enough.'"
As more patients and physicians begin to view portals as an integral part of health management, communication and satisfaction will continue to increase. Patients now expect the same online convenience from their health provider as they do from their bank or retail store, so any hospital wishing to remain competitive must have an accessible, user-friendly portal.