Patient portals are online applications that allow patients to securely communicate with their healthcare providers and access their personal health information. Patient portals can operate as independent, stand alone web sites or can be integrated into the existing websites of health care providers or payers.
What’s the difference between a patient portal, personal health record (PHR) and electronic health record (EHR)?
The lines between the three are blurring, as patient portals are becoming more integrated into other systems, and are expanding the services they provide.
A personal health record (PHR) can be a paper, electronic or web based record of an individual’s health data that is compiled and maintained by the individual. The paper-based format is typically a file folder or binder with copies of printed lab reports, tests and personal health history forms. An electronic version contains the same information but is hosted on a personal computer that can be printed and backed up. Web based versions include Google Health and Microsoft Health Vault where the same information is hosted on a third party web server (a.k.a. cloud computing) and can be accessed and shared from any computer over the internet.
In all cases, it’s up to the individual to get copies of all their labs, test results and treatment history and enter this information into their PHR. This has proven to be too much work for most people, and in June Google announced it was shuttering Google Health due to low adoption.
An electronic health record (EHR), also called an electronic medical record (EMR), is a record of an individual’s health data that is entered and maintained by a health care provider such as hospitals and clinics. While the data is about the patient, it was not easy for patients to get access to this data.
A patient portal is an online gateway to provide patients with access to their medical information that is captured in an EHR/EMR. If a PHR integrates with an EHR/EMR, it can act as patient portal as well.
As a health care provider, why do I need a patient portal?
The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) included incentives for providers to adopt electronic health record (EHR) systems. To qualify for these incentives, providers must show that they are using EHR’s in a “meaningful way” by passing a certification test consisting of 25 specific Meaningful Use rules. This includes a number of patient engagement objectives to provide patients with electronic access to their medical records in a timely manner, as well as patient specific education materials.
EHR’s are not designed to communicate with patients or provide them with access to their information. A web based patient portal that is integrated with an EHR is the most efficient way to bridge this gap so providers can meet the patient engagement objectives, and thus qualify for the incentives.
Learn more about the specific Meaningful Use objectives patient portals solve.
How does a patient portal work?
Each patient portal has different features for patients and providers. Some portals provide patients with read-only access to their information, while others allow patients to edit and update their personal information such as contact info and insurance.
Some patient portals are tethered to specific EHR systems, while others are more flexible and can be integrated with multiple internal clinic systems including practice management, EHR and labs.
What are the benefits and features of patient portals?
For oncologists, a patient portal can be customized to provide oncology specific tools and resources for your staff and patients. Below are some of the features and benefits patient portals can provide when integrated with internal clinic systems.
- Online new patient registration reduces printing and mailing paper forms
- Oncology specific care management tools improves patient side effect tracking
- Automated delivery of diagnosis specific patient education materials results in better informed patients
- Secure messaging with patients for e-visits and appointment reminders reduces missed calls and visits
- Communication tools for patients helps them organize support from friends and family
- Social network for patients connects them with other cancer survivors for additional support
- Services such as online bill pay, prescription refill requests and appointment scheduling results in more efficient use of staff time
- Patient access to health information including lab results, tests and medical history reduces staff time spent copying and mailing patient records
- Spanish language version of new patient registration expands potential patient base