Nicole WoodhouseReprinted from Sophrona Sage Solutions
The future is now; it’s time to implement a patient portal

I was asked if I could put some thoughts together about my portal experience and why a practice should pursue a patient portal. I had no idea how daunting a task that would turn out to be (getting my thoughts together, that is!).

Why pursue a portal? The answer is because we must. In order to meet Meaningful Use criteria, medical practices are moving forward, some of them kicking and screaming, into EHR and all that implies. But the REAL answer is that it’s the future and its time to stop kicking and screaming.

Our ophthalmology practice is fortunate enough to have a CEO with a great deal of foresight and desire not only to be on the cutting edge of initiatives, but also to be the leader. Our physicians are not afraid to move to the next step and embrace these changes – not just accept them. Our practice has had a Facebook page for over 2 years. We have been sending an electronic newsletter to over 10,000 subscribers for almost 5 years. Who said our patients are not ready for a patient portal?

We did!

Admittedly, many members of our staff say that our patients will not respond to or use a patient portal. They are too old. The are too sick. They will not understand how it works. They do nott use technology. We announced the launch of our portal in our April monthly newsletter and we saw a significant number of “click-throughs” on the link to the portal. It looked as if our patients were ready – but was our staff?

We expect a great deal from our employees. Our office staff has to be knowledgeable in both medical and routine insurance plans, they have to understand EOB’s and HIPAA, they have to know the intricacies of scheduling and the subtleties of the telephone. Our clinic staff must work quickly and efficiently with a wide variety of patients, equipment and doctors.

I am a relative newcomer to the medical field (less than 5 years). My background is in customer service and training. I have been through roll-outs of e-store shopping, on-line bridal registries and more new service programs than I care to remember. So how hard could this be? Let me stop laughing and I’ll tell you – it is still a work in progress.

Our first, best move was identifying key players and giving them responsibility for monitoring the portal on the practice side. But then I found I was preaching to the choir – our key people are young, enthusiastic and needed very little prompting. What I was not doing was sharing with the rest of the class:

Did our billing department remind patients that called to give their credit card over the phone to pay their bill that next time, they could use the portal?

Did our contact lens staff remind patients who were calling to order their lenses know that next time, they could use the portal?

Did our schedulers remind EVERY patient (regardless of age) that they could register on-line and update everything from insurance to medications?

Did our front desk remind patients that if they needed to change their follow-up appointment that they could do so through the portal?

How many of our employees actually created an account and registered? How can they tell our patients how useful the portal is if they do not know?

Our practice has received reimbursement under the Meaningful Use guidelines. Our patient portal is a key part of our success. Needless to say, we still have a great deal of work to do and I look forward the challenge.

Nicole Woodhouse
Front Office Manager
The Eye Care Institute

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