MU2 – #6 Secure Messaging and Patient Portal Tips

 In Articles, Meaningful Use
Jeanne Chamberlin Director of EMR Consulting

Jeanne Chamberlin
Director of EMR Consulting

Although a patient portal has been available in all certified EHRs, expect to see significant enhancements as you upgrade to your system’s 2014 certified version. For most, the portal will be the primary vehicle for the transmission of secure messages, one of the new measures for Stage 2:

Secure Messaging:   A secure message was sent using the electronic messaging function of CEHRT by more than 5 percent of unique patients (or their authorized representatives) seen by the EP during the EHR reporting period.

Note that the secure message must be sent using a function of the certified EHR, so an email sent through a commercial email system like gmail does not count. Further, the message is expected to contain clinically-relevant information. A request for refill of a medication can certainly count. A request for an appointment might count, however it must be sent to the provider rather than to an administrative staff member, and it must come through the EHR portal, not through a portal attached to a separate Practice Management system.

While messages must be sent to the provider, there are no requirements that the provider must respond or even review the message. In many practices, a staff member will be assigned to review the incoming messages and respond based on defined protocols. An acceptable response can be that the patient needs to make an appointment.

Implementing or upgrading a patient portal requires some careful planning that includes defining roles, developing procedures and educating both patients and staff. Take advantage of these tips: 

  • Understand how your portal handles creating and resetting a patient’s login information. It is often the responsibility of the practice, and you’ll need policies, procedures and staff training to respond appropriately. If your EHR requires you to generate and assign a password, use a pattern such as first initial/year of birth/last 4 digits of SSN. This will allow you to provide the pattern to a patient who has forgotten their password without having to regenerate another.
  • Be prepared for patient requests to amend their medical record. You’ll likely see more of these as patients review their information on the portal.
  • You’ll need to identify primary and back-up staff to carry out some new roles:  distributing log-in instructions, patient assistance in logging in or using the portal, responding to various types of requests (appointments, triage, RX refills, etc.).
  • Develop and implement a plan to introduce the portal to your patients and encourage its use:
    • Make It Easy – provide a link on your website, email instructions on how to log in
    • Make It Valuable – select and promote the functions that your patients will want to use
    • Make It Known – posters in exam rooms and elevator, personal introduction by nurses or providers
    • Make It Fun – encourage staff to brainstorm promotional ideas, have a party when you achieve your goal
  • Use this handout to help your patients, providers and staff understand the value of the Patient Portal
  • If necessary to attain the 5% of patients who view data, hire a student to sit in your lobby and introduce patients to the portal by logging them in to view their data.

Most importantly, don’t constrain your thinking based on MU Stage 2 requirements. Explore all the ways that you can use the patient portal to make your practice more efficient and build patient loyalty.

Visit the CMS Specification Sheet for each Stage 2 Measure here.

Need help unraveling the complexities of Meaningful Use? MSOC Health can help! Contact Jeanne Chamberlin, Director of EMR Consulting at 919-442-2422 or

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