Mercy Health System in Portland, Maine, has been working to make its patient portal as user-friendly as possible, along with new features, as the organization prepares for a Stage 2 meaningful use reporting period in October.

Giving real value to patients through the portal is necessary to meet the Stage 2 threshold of getting more than 5 percent of patients to access online their health information. Christopher Hall, M.D., CMIO at Mercy--part of Eastern Maine Healthcare System--used the portal himself recently to make appointment requests for his children, and was impressed. He made the requests in the evening and got appointments for the next morning. “The portal defeats a phone call because you can get right in,” he says. “It is faster than a call as you won’t get put in a queue.”

Mercy Health uses the FollowMyHealth portal of Allscripts. The portal has big and little features that ease use, says Craig Dreher, CIO. For instance, the portal is built on HTML5 language so it supports any Web browser.

Users also can use the password for their Facebook page or other social media sites as their password for the portal so they won’t forget how to get on. “It gives the user the comfort of not having another password and that’s a driver toward getting them to use the portal,” Dreher explains. That feature doesn’t just work for younger patients, but is helping to improve use by senior citizens, as well, Hall adds.

The portal also is helping physicians to better monitor patient conditions, such as weight, Hall says. A physician can write an order for a patient to check their weight daily, either on a manual or electronic scale, and enter the weight into the portal. The physician then receives a note if weight begins to exceed certain parameters.

The portal is untethered, meaning it can talk to other information systems, and that means a patient can enter their own data and send it to a provider either by email or fax, and the data can be filed into the electronic health records system. Hosted by Allscripts, Dreher says he does not have to manage or upgrade the portal.

Now, Mercy Health is working with the vendor on building a telemedicine component to enable “face time” between patients and providers, Dreher notes. In particularly, homeless patients are a target for this service as the hospital wants to reach out to them and keep track of their health status, and many of them have a smartphone.

Mercy Health has a high level of its patient population insured with high deductible health plans and they are becoming more engaged because of the desire to reduce costs. Consequently, clinicians are looking for gaps in care. The oranization is assessing integration and reporting tools from Allscripts to enable clinicians to check for signs of chronic illness not yet diagnosed by clicking on a reporting tool in the EHR to see if a patient is at high risk of having a chronic condition, such as being a patient being 90 percent suspected of having diabetes, according to Dreher.


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