Patient portals are online programs and applications that help patients and physicians interact. Although there are many different implementations, most will have some sort of messaging component to help with communication between the doctor and the patient, as well as access to at least some elements of the chart, such as test results.
“Patients should expect to have access to their health data just as they have access to book their airplane flights, do their banking online and go shopping with immediate delivery,” says John Sharp, senior manager, Health Information Systems Consumer Health IT with Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) in Chicago. “It should be done to not only improve the patient’s experience, but also to engage the patient in their care.”
Portals & Meaningful Use
Portals are becoming something every physician will have to deal with sooner or later. The information delivered by them will be an integral part of qualifying your electronic medical record (EMR) systems for reimbursement under the terms of meaningful use rules.
“We really did not decide to set up a portal, it came with our new EMR and was required under meaningful use rules,” says Jennifer Odutola, MD, with the Loudoun Rheumatology Center in Lansdowne, Va. “We are just so bogged down with new things; I am not sure I would have gone out of my way on my own.”
After installation, she has found that having a patient portal allows patients to communicate and express themselves in a manner that can’t be misinterpreted as it goes up the line. It has improved the accuracy of communication, especially when compared with the telephone.
“We have found it very nice for patients to be able to communicate in ways other than on the telephone,” she says. “There may be a more satisfied patient [because] they have the comfort of a relatively quick turnaround on their questions. For someone who is angry, this is a great way to rebuild the relationship.”
Access to Labs & Tests
A portal has also proved useful to the practice by giving patients access to their laboratory and other test results. Although it does mean you occasionally have to discuss these results with patients between appointments, she finds that many of her longer term patients know what the numbers mean and can access them when they want to review results.