What is a Patient Portal?

Patient portals are web based online applications that allow patient communication with their healthcare provider. A patient portal enables the patient 24 by 7 access to their health records, thereby empowering patients to manage of their own health. Some patient portals are independent websites which are integrated into existing hospital software while some are modules of existing electronic medical records (EMR). Since EMRs are complex in implementation usually hospitals or medical centres first start with installing and using patient portals. The basic aspect of this portal or EMR is displaying patient information via the Internet in a secure and confidential manner.

What do Patient Portals do?

These patient portals allow patients easy access to archived information and help in ordering prescriptions, taking appointments, paying bills and asking any query or doubts to their healthcare provider. Blood tests or reports can also be viewed and safely stored in such portals and used for future reference. All medical information and visit summaries are available on the portal which allows the patient to view their medical visits summary easily.

It’s simple and easy to get registered on such portals; the only things needed by the patient are an email address, a username and a password. Once patients get used to these portals they don’t require the phone or the call centre of the hospital. Everything is easily accessible and just a click away. Normally, any message just pops up on the hospital portal or physician’s clinic portal where a nurse or staff will immediately respond either for scheduling appointments or answer a query put forth by the patient. Apart from this, these portals also reduce paperwork and assist in healthcare management. Nowadays, patient portals are greatly encouraged as they provide patient empowerment in managing and actively take part in their health care.

The Advantages of Patient Portals

These portals have a two way advantage and are of immense use for both the physicians as well as patients. Though there may be certain challenges in setting up and implementing these portals, these provide more benefits to organise and make your medical practice systematic and approachable.

How Patients Benefit

  • Ask their queries or doubts regarding their medical condition or medications. Laboratory results can be viewed. This helps patients to actively take part in their healthcare by asking questions either through e- mails, comments or messages.
  • Scheduling appointments, thereby reducing the need for phone calls. Certain portals have an option of filling patient forms online. This helps in streamlining patient’s visits and reducing overcrowding of clinics and wastage of time. Medical bills can also be paid via these portals.
  • Requesting a repeat of prescription or any other medication. Thus people who stay far away may save on travelling time, but can still approach their health care provider within the comforts of their homes. A high degree of interaction with the healthcare provider is possible.

How Healthcare Providers Benefit

  • Electronically record all clinical and medical data for the patient as well as future reference. This reduces paperwork and leads to systematic documentation. Lab results and post visit summaries can also be attached.
  • Scheduling appointments online can reduce workload of staff as well as reduce paperwork. Unnecessary answering of phone calls can be avoided,  thus maintaining a smooth workflow.
  • A physician can respond to a patient’s query even while seeing other patients. This enables the physician to save time and attend to more important cases which require face to face consultation. Thus, saving time of the physician and avoiding crowds in the waiting room.
  • A physician can provide 24 by 7 access without increasing their work hours.

Patient portals are still primarily new in the field of medicine, but are catching up and soon becoming common in all large hospitals and medical setups. Though it is important to note that these portals are not a substitute for clinical visits and patients should be educated about the limitations and scope of these portals. Physicians also need to train their staff in using such portals. Thus, these portals if used well can change the face of healthcare and provide quality medical care to patients even in remote interiors of an expansive country like India.

Contributed by Dr. Rachita Narsaria, MD

REFERENCES

  • Himmelstein, David U.; Wright, Adam; Woolhandler, Steffie. “Hospital Computing and the Costs and Quality of Care: A National Study”. The American Journal of Medicine.2010; 123 (1): 40–6.
  • Wager, K.; Lee, F.; Glaser, J.Health Care Information Systems: A Practical Approach for Health Care Management (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.2009;pp. 253–254.

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