There has been a lot of discussion about the implementation of electronic health records. In an update, posted on this blog in January 2012, I wrote that by the end of 2011, nearly 57% of all physicians were using some type of electronic health record with more coming onboard every week.
For health providers to meet the Stage 2 Meaningful Use standards, set out in the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the transfer of patient data from paper files into electronic files is required. Patient Portals enable that online access.
A Patient Portal is a secure HIPPA-compliant two-way communication channel between patients and their health care providers. It is an interactive way that patients can directly participate in their care by managing such tasks as scheduling appointments, requesting prescription refills, tracking their medical appointments, accessing their lab tests, paying their bills.
It is also a platform, available 24/7, that enables patients and providers to engage in two-way discussions via email or e-visits. This secure messaging feature, that keeps patients engaged and in touch with their health providers and health issues, is reason enough to encourage increased use of portals.
A survey conducted by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions in 2012, revealed that nearly 80 percent of patients are interested in gaining access to their medical information and in actively participating in their care via patient portals. The Deloitte research reveals that three out of four health consumers surveyed want their physicians to provide online services to schedule appointments, get test results, access medical records and exchange e-mail.
Portals have specific benefits to both providers and patients, including:
Protals provide a communication channel easily accessed and usable, that is otherwise unavailable. This results in a stronger, more trusting relationship between a physician and a patient.
Patients like portals and studies have found sustained use of portals over time encourages patients to be more active in their care.
Portals allow patients, physicians and consulting physicians (specialists) to share information which promotes collaboration.
Portals are one way that providers can quickly and easily provide clinical summaries of a patient encounter (after visit summaries) which in Meaningful Use Stage 2 must be made available to patients after each office visit.
Portals have been found to provide tangible cost savings and efficiencies to medical practices by reducing the amount of telephone time that medical office staff must spend responding to patient calls by allocating specific time slots to reviewing portal messages.
Portals enable practices to post forms that patients can fill out online to improve both timeliness and accuracy of this information. These forms can also be customized to solicit specific detail from patients.
We know that people are already online doing their banking, booking their travel, managing their investments and meeting and talking with friends and business associates. It is an obvious next step that patients will use portals to eliminate the communication barriers that have been typical of medical practice for generations.This will engage patients and enable providers to have a more open and participatory relationship with patients.