The Patient’s Guide to Patient Portals

Zach Watson
patient portal login

To supply patients with a continuous healing experience, MedQB aggregates your patient portals and accesses them to retrieve your medical records. However, a great deal of patients aren’t familiar with what a patient portal is or what they gain from using one. With the use of patient portals now mandated by federal regulations, expect each one of your doctors to implement a patient portal of their own, if they haven’t already.

If you’re one of many patients who isn’t familiar with patient portals, don’t worry; we’ve done some researched and compiled this guide that explains essential patient portal functions, how you access and navigate those features, and how you can use MedQB to manage all the health information stored in patient portals.

So What is a Patient Portal? 

A patient portal is a website, either stand-alone or connected to a hospital or doctor’s office website, which patients securely sign in to so they can access a variety of medical information, like lab results, pharmacy prescriptions and other reports.

Patient portals are provider specific, meaning they only work with one specific doctor’s office or hospital system. Patient portals also ease the flow of communication between patients and doctors by allowing patients to directly email their doctor’s office, schedule an appointment or fill out paperwork for an upcoming office visit. These functions make things more convenient for patients by eliminating waiting times on the phone and in the doctor’s office.

Why Are My Doctors Using Patient Portals?

The HITECH Act, legislation that was passed as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvention Act, allocated $25.9 billion to expand the use of healthcare information technology throughout the U.S.’s healthcare system.

Consequently, doctors and hospitals are implementing patient portals with greater frequency to both qualify for incentives and avoid penalties from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, a policy known as Meaningful Use.

But patient portals aren’t just about money: research shows switching from a paper record keeping system to an electronic system may play a large role in reducing clerical errors, specifically errors on prescriptions.

Theoretically, patient portals also positively influence waiting times by supplying patients with easy access to paperwork they can fill out before they arrive for their appointment. With the paperwork already completed and processed, patients won’t have to arrive so early for appointments, or wait as long once they arrive.

In addition to helping physicians provide more convenient and accurate care, patient portals give patients greater involvement in their care, a very important trend known as patient engagement.

The concept behind patient engagement involves putting the patient at the center of their care through shared decision making, lifestyle changes that lead to preventative care and greater application of technology and information resulting patients that are both healthier and happier with their care.

Research suggests patient agree with that approach. A recent survey indicated 41% of Americans would switch healthcare providers if it meant gaining online access to their medical records.

Main Features 

Every patient portal is different, and each contains different features. However, quality patient portals will offer a set of common features for patients. The portal used as an example is Vanderbilt’s My Health.

Records – This function lets you view all of your health records from Vanderbilt providers. Types of health documents include: laboratory tests, reports from laboratory tests, vital signs (body mass index, blood pressure, etc.) immunizations, medications and allergies.

Forms – This tab includes clerical forms you need to fill out before you actually see a physician.

Appointments – As you probably guessed, this function lets you view upcoming appointments or request a future appointment with a Vanderbilt physician.

Messages – Send messages to doctor’s offices directly instead of calling on the phone with this function. Messages are stored for viewing later and can be deleted just like email.

Health Management – This tab brings up a list of apps that patients may be using to track their health and vital signs. This example account has a flu app installed that takes patients through a series of questions to determine if you or someone you know may have influenza.

Functions will differ between portals, and sometimes even between hospitals and doctors’ offices if the owner of the portal chooses not to activate certain features, but these 5 functions serve as the foundation for a solid patient portal.

The Future 

Patient portals will continue to proliferate and will eventually become a common feature of our healthcare infrastructure. Moving beyond the features listed above, patient portals could eventually become an avenue for patients to interact with healthcare providers from the comfort of their own home.

Known as telemedicine, online interactions between a patient and a physician using streaming video are quickly becoming more common. Telemedicine could be a great benefit to patients living in rural areas far away from their doctors or to patients with limited mobility.

What About MedQB? 

While patient portals are a necessary step forward for improving the United States’ healthcare infrastructure, problems still exist. Most notably, patient portals, like Electronic Health Record systems, do not interact with each other, even if they have the same vendor.

This means as more doctors adopt EHRs and patient portals, patients will have more and more to keep up with. Imagine if your primary care doctor, podiatrist, cardiologist and plastic surgeon all had to different portals. Well, it’s not a fantasy; that’s precisely the way it’s happening. This graphic illustrates the problem nicely.

To help patients easily organize all their healthcare information, MedQB allows you to access all your portals from one screen. Once you decide which information you need from which doctor, MedQB retrieves those records and transfers them to the database of your choice or creates a pdf file that you can save or print.

Patients should expect patient portals to become more present in the coming months and years as this technology is rapidly adopted as the new standard of online interaction between patients and their healthcare providers.

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