Web portals: They're not just for patients

Using web-based portals to optimize key operations
By Dan Nerroth
01:38 PM

As the healthcare industry works toward Stage 2 meaningful use attestation, web portals are becoming a “must-have” for improving patient engagement and facilitating meaningful patient-provider communication. Despite a portal’s many benefits to patient care, most healthcare organizations have yet to consider applying the technology to other areas.

For instance, some healthcare organizations use web-based portals to better manage and track their operations processes. When leveraging this approach and taking advantage of feature-rich tools, they are able to facilitate essential functions, such as OSHA and HIPAA training, medical waste management, billing and purchasing, thereby streamlining processes and enhancing operational efficiency.

Portals versus traditional workflow management strategies

There are myriad business processes and operational tasks that healthcare organizations must effectively manage to ensure smooth operations and regulatory compliance. Traditionally, office managers and other staff have relied on inefficient—and sometimes labor-intensive—paper-based methods to perform these necessary functions. Manual processes are more difficult to streamline and can be error-prone, not to mention that producing reports and sharing data this way can be inefficient (or not possible at all).

On the other hand, when organizations employ technology—such as a web-based portal—they can facilitate essential business and operational processes more efficiently, improving workflow and more effectively supporting compliance. Following are some specific ways leveraging portal technology enables better performance for these organizations:

Accessing real-time information on demand. Unlike with paper, organizations that leverage centralized portals have on-demand access to real-time information whenever they need it. Rather than relying on manually-generated reports that can become out-of-date quickly, and therefore inaccurate, portals allow organizations to view system changes as they occur and produce reports or push data using the most current information available. This capability enables better decision-making processes, improved record keeping and increased efficiency.

Smoothing operations. Many healthcare functions are quite complex and could benefit greatly from streamlining. Management of medical waste, for instance, is an essential and unavoidablle operation in all organizations. Ranging from trash removal and recycling to hazardous waste disposal, facility experts need to monitor waste streams and ensure staff are aware of appropriate processes. Organizations that leverage a portal to manage these tasks can see all waste streams at a glance, identifying potential problems early and avoiding risk. Moreover, the portal can help the organization better meet environmental regulations, manage costs, monitor carbon emissions and optimize medical waste management processes organization-wide. 

Managing regulatory training. Many organizations struggle with handling required educational programs like OSHA and HIPAA training. Some may even ignore these issues until they become a problem, due to lack of knowledge and resources. By leveraging technology that deliver various training programs via portal, healthcare organizations large and small can more easily prepare staff to meet compliance regulations.

Since standardizing education is key to sustaining compliance across an organization, portals are an effective training venue, allowing the organization to track participation as well. In particular, this strategy offers an efficient way for decentralized organizations with multi-site locations to maintain standardized training without deploying more trainers, greatly reducing cost.

In addition, portals help organizations avoid having to schedule team members away from their normal workday to participate in learning sessions. Instead, the technology allows staff members to access training when it is most convenient for them. Moreover, the organization can work toward scheduling training into existing processes and workflow—saving time and resources.

Enabling faster data sharing. As technology becomes ubiquitous, healthcare is moving toward a more efficient and paperless environment and portals further enable this efficiency. For example, instead of pulling data from a spreadsheet to subsequently print and fax reports, organizations that use portals can extract and send information with a click of a button, generating efficiencies in workflow.

Assessing risk. In addition to facilitating communication, education and information-sharing, portal technology can help identify and mitigate risk. When organizations use centralized portals for reporting, they can leverage them to highlight potential issues, drilling down to specific sites or departments. For example, organizations that use portals that offer compliance training can determine if they’ve completed various requirements at the department or unit level, taking necessary action to mitigate shortfalls before an audit occurs.

Taking portals to the next level

As an emerging but valuable tool for the healthcare industry, web-based portals provide enhanced access to information and a more actionable view of a healthcare organization’s metrics, while simultaneously facilitating administrative, compliance and other tasks that optimize operations. When healthcare organizations leverage portals in a business context, they can monitor, track and report on key operations, allowing them to improve essential processes that ultimately support enhanced patient care delivery and promote organizational viability.