This is the first of several blog posts on the advantages of using patient portals that are integrated with electronic health records.

I have previously blogged about how patient portals can change the way lab test results are communicated to patients in our blog titled, “I’m Texting Nobody about Nothin'” — A patient portal changes the way we communicate.

Since the time when I wrote that blog, we have become more interested in how patient self-service can turn traditional workflows into more efficient, revenue enhancing ones. Our motivation — the local frozen yogurt store. Of course the next question is — what does frozen yogurt have to do with EHRs and medical office workflows?

For years my wife and I have visited the local frozen yogurt store for a late night snack. Over the years buying yogurt has become more complicated (just like healthcare). It used to be a choice between vanilla and chocolate – now there are many more flavors and dozens of “add-ins” such as candy, sprinkles, or fruit. The traditional frozen yogurt store’s workflow means two lines. One line for the first employee to ask me; what size I want (I usually order a small cup), what flavor I would like, then to dispense the yogurt, add my favorite candy and take the yogurt to the cashier. And, another completely separate line to pay for the yogurt. Sometimes they add just the right amount of candy, but other times I wish they would add a little more. I am not really in control. Other times the line to pay for the yogurt is too long, so it begins to melt before I pay.

A new yogurt store just opened up with a single line, it is based on self-service, and it is putting the old frozen yogurt shop out of business. Here’s how it works; they only have one size container – the extra large cup. I walk over to the frozen yogurt machine and fill it with as much yogurt as I want (somehow it is always way more than that small cup I used to order). Then I throw a bunch of candy in and mix it all up. I am in complete control. They weigh it, I pay, and they keep the line moving so my frozen yogurt never melts. Since I usually buy more yogurt than I used to (can anyone resist filling the extra large cup?), the new yogurt store makes more money per person then the old store. I watch the customers — they love doing the work that the employees at the traditional yogurt store used to do.

Change Your Workflow – Reduce Your Overhead and Increase Your Profitability

The new frozen yogurt store has created a win-win situation by changing the traditional workflow to one that involves the Benefits of a Patient Portalconsumer. They make more dollars per customer, as they have grown they have had to hire less employees (just cashiers), and the customers love participating in the creation of their own, personalized frozen yogurt snack.

What if we could do this with medical office workflows? What if the patient interacted with the EHR in a way that gave them some control (with supervision) over the content of their health record? Can an EHR company create the same type of win-win that the new frozen yogurt store did? Of course the answer is yes.

With the YourHealthFile® patient portal, many of the tasks performed by the medical team, including the physician, can now be performed at home or at an office kiosk by the patient. Patients love to participate in their healthcare; they want to understand and interact with their personal health record and find new ways to communicate with your medical practice.

The federal government has a keen interest in patient participation in their personal health record. They are pushing healthcare providers to give patient’s greater access to their medical records. In fact The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced in September, proposed changes to federal laws that would give patients direct access to laboratory test results without having first to talk with the physicians who ordered the tests. Many physicians are skeptical about that level of empowerment; they are concerned that reporting test results without the context of a doctor’s explanation will increase patient concern and erode the physician-patient relationship. Other physicians see more patient empowerment as more work for them. I understand their point of view; physicians play an important role in assisting their patients in processing complex medical information. Just providing data to patients is not the solution to patient empowerment, and it will slow doctors down.

Empower Your Patients Through the YourHealthFile® Patient Portal

Providers need an organized way to empower their patients — they need an online patient portal that promotes self-service and easy interaction between the medical practice and the patient. With the YourHealthFile® patient portal we have found the happy medium of patient self-service and empowerment, with the proper amount of physician supervision and expert advice. We have created the same win-win that our local frozen yogurt store has — a balance that streamlines front office workflow, and actually incorporates patient created chief complaint and medical history data directly into the electronic health record.

Stay tuned for more blogs on the YourHealthFile® patient portal and the concepts and methods we use to promote patient self-service as a way to reduce overhead and increase profitability.