A patient portal is a website set up by a primary care provider or another doctor to allow patients at least some access to their medical records. These portals also may allow for patients to perform other actions, such as requesting prescription refills, paying bills and setting up or changing appointments.
Pro: Offers 24/7 Access to Records
These portals allow patients to log into their account any time of day to see the results of tests performed at appointments, summaries of their past visits and other information, such as the medications they are taking. This can make it a lot easier for patients to take more control of their own health and understand the issues they are having. Seeing their results in black and white may also make it more likely they'll follow the doctor's advice and the recommended treatment plan.
Con: Medical Jargon Is Sometimes Used
Some people may not be able to easily understand these records if the doctors and nurses who fill them out use a lot of abbreviations or jargon. This can be an issue especially with older patients, and some patients may then want the doctor to spend a lot of time explaining the results at the next visit.
Pro: Potentially More Efficient Use of Staff Time
When test results, appointment scheduling, prescription refill requests and other similar tasks can be accomplished online, it can free up the time of the staff. These online requests can be fulfilled as time allows, instead of having the staff constantly interrupted by phone calls. This means they may have more time to focus on patient care.
Cons: Results May Require Explanation or Be Sensitive
Not all test results are posted on patient portals, as abnormal results often require some explanation and a bit of hand holding. Especially sensitive results, such as those from HIV testing, should still be given in person. However, normal results and even some types of abnormal results can be posted on the patient portal, especially if they're accompanied by educational materials that explain what the results mean in language the patient will understand.
Not everyone will use the patient portal, so the services on the portal will still need to be provided in other ways to some patients. Making the portal user-friendly and providing the information and services that the patients are looking for will help to improve usage. Doctors need to tell the patients about the portal and assign people on the staff to promptly respond to any inquiries received through the patient portal, as long delays will make it so the patients don't find the portal useful and they may stop using it. Some people may be concerned about the security of their information on the portal, even with the secure login and password used to access the account.