Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2008 | 4:52 p.m.
Las Vegas, the city that never sleeps, now has a round the clock customer service option for patients of its largest health care provider.
Southwest Medical Associates patients can go online to book appointments, renew prescriptions and view medical records and test results.
“We believe we’re the first in the nation to do this,” said company spokesman Peter O'Neill.
Officials from Southwest, which is owned by Sierra Health Services, the largest health insurance company in Nevada, introduced the new “My SMA Health Online” at a press conference Tuesday. In its first 100 days of service, about 12,000 of the company’s 280,000 patients have signed up for accounts on the site.
The new system is expected to reduce frustration with Southwest call centers and improve interaction with physicians, officials said. Michael Coleman, Southwest’s chief operating officer, said the company received about 150,000 customer service calls a month in 2007, many to fill prescriptions or schedule appointments. Those patients can now take things into their own hands online by picking from a list of appointment times and dates with primary care providers or pediatricians. After selecting their appointment, they receive an e-mail to confirm the visit.
My SMA Health Online also allows patients to view outstanding payment balances, authorize others to schedule appointments on their behalf and update personal information. Patient privacy was a primary concern, officials said, and all the information is encrypted and protected to maintain confidentiality. Coleman said electronic records are actually easier to police than paper records because anyone who enters the system leaves a traceable footprint.
Southwest developed the web portal in-house for about $354,000. It was only possible because of the company’s previous $7 million investment in electronic medical records. In 2003 Southwest went “paperless” internally, and it also fills prescriptions electronically. These advances were adapted for consumers to create My SMA Health Online.
The company took steps to make sure patients aren’t surprised by what they find on line. For instance, lab results are verified by doctors before they’re available to patients. That way, physicians can communicate any serious results and interpret them in person, if necessary.
Also, notes by providers will not be available to patients online, though they can be requested at the office. Southwest tried to strike a balance between informing patients and providing too much information, which could be confusing, officials said.
Dr. Craig Morrow, the company’s medical director, said the new web portal has already improved his patient visits. Those who are using the online program now come to the office with specific questions based on the test results and records they’ve seen online, he said. That saves time and takes confusion out of communicating, he said.