Patient portals, according to HealthIT.gov, are secure websites (and apps) that give patients access to personal health information over an internet connection. The most common things patients can view on a portal include:
- Recent or upcoming doctor visits
- Discharge summaries
- Medication lists
- Current and overdue immunizations
- Lab results
- Imaging results
In addition, some portals allow:
- Secure messaging between patients and providers
- Prescription refill requests
- Appointment scheduling
- Online bill pay
- Educational materials
- Doctor’s notes
- Completing intake and other forms
These portals can connect to a patient’s electronic health record (EHR), as well as other tools that you use in your practice like online scheduling, direct messaging, and prescription refills. The exact information available via patient portal can vary depending on what tools a clinic has enabled, as well as what vendor provides the portal.
History of Patient Portals
While internet portals—and increasingly apps—have been around for a while and many industries have adopted them successfully to allow consumers to manage sensitive personal data like banking information, the healthcare industry was slow to adopt them broadly. Regulations like HIPAA, as well as an unclear link between the cost and benefit to adopt them, kept most healthcare systems and providers out of the game. A 2009 law (ARRA) finally set aside $19 billion to improve health information technology, including electronic medical records and patient portals. The law tied financial incentives to patient portal use, encouraging developers to create them, and providers to start offering them to patients.
Patient Portal Benefits
Patient portals offer several benefits to providers and users. Increasingly, portals offer benefits like patient-provider messaging, online bill pay, scheduling capabilities, and more. For patients, they offer real-time access to information that was once exclusively held within your doctor’s office on paper charts (even getting those records to transfer to another provider for continuity of care was difficult and cumbersome). For providers, they offer a chance to share information with patients—such as education, upcoming immunization reminders, and more—without the need for an in-person appointment.
A 2018 Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) stat poll revealed that more than 90% of healthcare organizations now offer patient portal access, and essentially everyone in the other 10% reported having plans to adopt one in the near future. The next challenge for many healthcare providers is encouraging large-scale patient adoption and use of the portal.
In part 2 of this blog post we’ll cover the future of the patient portal and the things providers need to offer to make it something that is valuable to patients.