A good patient portal is wonderful; a bad patient portal is a waste of time. A recent post by Dr. Yul Ejnes suggested portals may not be patient centered and don’t get much use.
An alternative view is that all patient portals NOT are the same. Some have great features and are supported by the providers offering them. Other portals are not much more than advertising — generally something a patient does not revisit. Sadly, many businesses have the latter type of portal — no wonder people don’t flock to medical portals.
Check out your health care provider’s portal. If it does not really provide a benefit then TELL THE PROVIDER, complain, and say other providers do a better job.
Admittedly, a poorly functioning provider office will likely have a poorly functioning portal. Just because the portal lets you send a message to the nurse or provider is no guarantee the response will be helpful.
Large vertically integrated health systems or ACOs have the best chance of a good patient portal. The portal needs monitoring and rules for providers — rules that require questions to be answered the same day. And, that the portal will display lab results within 48 hours, regardless of whether the provider has or has not seen the results. Responses from nurses need to be monitored for accuracy and timeliness — the lazy but profitable response to just make an appointment is not adequate. Integration of pharmacy functions is essential.
Here is a checklist of possible portal features — how does your provider’s portal stack up?
- Responses to online requests take less than 24 hours
- Ask a medical question
- Ask medication related question
- Make a follow up appointment
- Make a same day urgent care appointment
- Get refills on a chronic medication
- Get a message from your provider about test results
- Report drug side effects or drug allergies
- Send a picture of a skin rash.
- Diabetics can send blood sugar results
- Asthmatics can send peak-flow measurements
- Look at your list of medical diagnoses both active and inactive
- See a list of current medications and the diagnosis for which they are prescribed
- Links to drug information about the drugs on the medication list
- Review the providers notes
- Review any test, x-ray or consultation report
- Your provider can send questions to specialists and forward the response to you
- You can print your lab, pathology and x-ray reports
- See your most recent medical summary including past medical history, social history, family history, medications list allergies — and be able to print the report if needed for consultations or to take on trips.
- Request a summary of billing and payment information — including when bills are sent to insurance and when payment is received.
- Pay your bills on-line
- Links to reliable on-line information sources about tests, treatments, drugs, immunizations and diseases. Include a symptom checker — a computerized diagnosis based on symptoms — something to discuss with your doctor.
- Provider office provides training to use the portal.
A provider might say: “I’m not paid for running a portal or answering questions”. That is very true for many providers in the US health care system. But, in systems without fee-for-service billing then portals are a huge driver of efficiency. If a patient’s questions or problems can be resolved via the portal so much the better for both the provider and the patient. The handwriting is on the wall — fee for service is going to go away — the efficiency of portals will be a strong driving force.