5 Ways a Patient Portal Can Improve Your Health Care Experience

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A patient portal is an online application which gives patients access to personal health information stored in a health care organization’s electronic health records (EHR). If your doctor’s office offers a patient portal, consider these reasons why should take advantage of the service.

Schedule appointments

Use the portal to request or schedule appointments with your health care providers. 

Request refills

Giving you a convenient way to request refills should make it easier you to keep up with refills and avoid lapses in the medication regimen. One study found that patients who use the portal to request refills of cholesterol medications took the medications more consistently and had better cholesterol levels (compared to patients who didn't request the refills online). 

View your records

With a patient portal, you gain access to critical health information that was previously locked up in the EHR. A typical portal allows you to view your test results, medications, immunizations, and allergies. A summary of your doctor visits and educational materials may also be available. You have the right to view this information and use it to participate more fully in your health care.

Improve the accuracy of your records

Keeping a list of your medications may seem like a straightforward task for a health care provider using an EHR. However, there are several reasons why your medication list may not be current and accurate, reflecting the name and dose of all the medications you are taking:

  • Human error in entering the medications into the EHR
  • Incomplete information at time of medication entry. For example, in your first visit to a doctor, maybe you remembered the names but not the doses of your medications.
  • Over-the-counter medications are frequently overlooked
  • Providers from multiple health organizations are prescribing medications for you
  • You stopped taking a medication

Fortunately, some portals give you the opportunity to submit corrections to your medication list and other parts of your record. This type of feedback loop is designed to improve the quality and safety of your care. In small pilot study in the Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania, patients used the portal to submit corrections such as:

  • Add over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements
  • Add medications prescribed by providers outside the Geisinger system
  • Remove medications they had stopped taking
  • Make corrections in the frequency and doses of medications

Communicate with health care team

A patient portal allows you to exchange secure messages with your health care provider. Rather than wait on hold or play phone tag, you can submit a question at your convenience. The response time may depend on the triage system used by the medical office for electronic messages, the content of your message, and the frequency with which your provider checks messages. A systematic review showed that patients who communicate electronically with their health care team can enjoy improvements in the following health dimensions:

  • Knowledge about their health condition
  • Ability to cope with and manage chronic health issues
  • Blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight (for patients with diabetes)
  • Control of asthma and quality of life (for patients with asthma)
  • Chronic back pain
  • Self-esteem and empowerment
  • Stress, depression, and loneliness

Note that electronic messaging isn’t appropriate in all medical situations. Read more about when you should (and shouldn’t) email your doctor.

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