In the 1967 movie, “The Graduate”, Ben (Dustin Hoffman) gets a one-word piece of advice from an older friend: “Plastics” (meaning that’s where the future lies). In the same vein, my friendly advice to you is “Patient Portals.”
By Paul Hicks
In the 1967 movie, “The Graduate”, Ben (Dustin Hoffman) gets a one-word piece of advice from an older friend: “Plastics” (meaning that’s where the future lies). In the same vein, my friendly advice to you is “Patient Portals.” These are online tools that allow patients to interact with doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers and obtain secure access to their electronic medical records.
For example, the White Plains Hospital website says its patient portal will help you:
> Make sure your health care provider has the correct contact information.
> Update your health information, including allergies, medical conditions, medications you take, and procedure history.
> Review your visit history, insurance information, medications, reports, and more.
> Review your statements and pay your hospital bills online.
> Check your appointment, directions and contact information, and which provider you’re seeing.
> Verify your providers’ notes and nursing discharge information.
The hospital also offers the option of providing an exchange of information to many of your providers’ electronic medical record systems.
As most of us can attest, contacting doctors by phone can be problematical, and regular email is not used because of privacy concerns. That problem is solved, however, by using the secure messaging system within a patient portal. We usually get answers to our questions within several hours when we use the WESTMED Medical Group’s portal. It you want a prompt response, phrase all your questions as succinctly as possible. We also use the portal to get the latest test results and reports as well as doctors’ notes.
> Update or complete your Health History and Registration Forms
> Request a Prescription Renewal
> Pay a Bill online
> Ask a question about your bill.
Protecting the security of patient portals and the privacy of their electronic medical records are important concerns for both the patients and health care providers. WESTMED emphasizes that its patient portal is “kept secure and confidential using a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) protocol and encryption. All staff and physicians receive training and are accountable for protecting patient privacy.”
An important issue is whether and how a patient portal can allow parents to be part of the information flow, while still respecting their child’s rights. A similar issue concerns the elderly, as many give family or friends access to their health information, but may want some data to remain private.
WESTMED’s portal allows adult patients (age 18 or older) to give permission to another adult age 18 and older to access their WESTMED Online medical information through its Family Access program. A parent or legal guardian can also request Family Access to WESTMED Online for children under 10.
Greenwich Hospital’s portal provides Proxy access for a parent, guardian, or family member to view a patient’s account. This allows them to help loved ones schedule appointments and keep track of immunizations and medications.
According to a recent independent survey of about 1,500 individuals, only one-third of patients currently have access to a patient portal, while two-thirds either do not have access or are unsure. The survey data is not surprising as using a patient portal is likely to be a new experience for many. That means patients will require improved direction from providers on how to access portals for the first time. It also supports recent findings that show providers need to improve the user-friendliness of patient portals and successfully promote them to their patients. As a contented customer of some patient portals, I am convinced they are the wave of the future.