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Health IT Success Stories

Patient Portal Implementation Leads to Better Messaging, Greater Efficiency, and Improved Patient Engagement at Desert Ridge Family Physicians

'The Patient Portal allows us to be more engaged with our patients' - Dr. Tiffany Nelson, Phoenix, AZ

Desert Ridge Family Physicians is a small practice in Phoenix, Arizona with seven family physicians and thirteen staff members. Desert Ridge Family Physicians has always been a patient-centered practice with a strong focus on patient engagement. When the practice’s electronic health record (EHR) vendor began offering a patient portal in 2007, Desert Ridge Family Physicians jumped at the chance to implement this new tool.

Patient Portal Implementation

To encourage patients to sign up for the patient portal, a medical assistant (MA) briefly explains the benefits of the portal during the patient rooming process.  If the patient is interested, the MA enrolls the patient.  Next, the patient’s physician reinforces the benefits of the patient portal and encourages the patient to complete the enrollment process at home. Over 7,000 patients have completed their enrollment, representing approximately 75% of the practice’s active patients.

Desert Ridge Family Physicians uses the patient portal to communicate with and engage patients. The patient portal’s two-way messaging capability enables Desert Ridge Family Physicians to quickly and easily:

  • Provide patients with clinical summaries after each visit
  • Respond to medication refill requests
  • Answer patient questions
  • Send lab results to patients
  • Send appointment confirmations to patients after they schedule an appointment
  • Proactively reach out to patients to keep them engaged in their health and health care

Better Messaging, More Efficiency

Since Desert Ridge Family Physicians implemented the patient portal, patients are not only contacting the practice more frequently, they are also writing better messages. Patients spend time composing thoughtful messages, which reduces the time Desert Ridge Family Physicians spends going back and forth with patients and helps patients get prompt answers to their questions. By cutting the time spent answering phone calls and voicemails, Desert Ridge Family Physicians estimates it saves over two hours of phone time each day.

Proactive Outreach Improves Health Care Quality

While the patient portal is an efficient method of communicating with patients, the real benefit for Desert Ridge Family Physicians are the improvements in patient engagement and health care quality. According to Desert Ridge Family Physicians, one of the best ways to keep patients engaged is through proactive physician outreach. For example, Dr. Nelson recently messaged a patient who just began a diet to see if the diet was progressing well. “When a patient receives a personal message from their doctor unexpectedly, it shows that the doctor is on their side,” Dr. Nelson explained. “It says, ‘I am here to support you.’

Case Study: Using the Patient Portal to Improve Depression Care

The practice is also using the patient portal to improve health care quality for its patients with depression. Treating depression begins the moment a patient checks in to the office and continues long after the visit is over. When a patient with depression checks in, an MA receives an alert and asks the patient to complete a depression questionnaire on an iPad. The EHR system automatically sends the patient’s responses to the physician, ensuring the physician can monitor the patient’s depression symptoms every time the patient visits Desert Ridge Family Physicians. Furthermore, if a physician prescribes a new medication or changes an existing prescription, an MA emails the patient through the patient portal two weeks after the medication change. Patients are asked about medication compliance, side effects, and effectiveness.

For Desert Ridge Family Physicians, the patient portal is a seamless and efficient way to communicate with patients in between visits and has enabled the practice to proactively identify patients with suicidal thoughts as well as those in need of medication adjustments. “The program helps the physicians better understand how depression influences a patient’s overall health and has not only led to improved depression care, but also to improvements in chronic conditions,” explained Dr. Nelson.