What Is a Patient Portal and Why Do I Need One?

By Karen Scoles, M.D., medical director, Information Systems

If you have visited your primary care physician or a specialist’s office recently you may have been asked by the office staff or your physician to “sign up for the patient portal.” But do you really want another login and password to remember? In this case, you certainly do! Patient portals improve communication with your doctors and help you medical-related tasks – without listening to hold music.

What Do Patient Portals Do?

DrWarningwPatientsPatient portals are a secure way to improve communication between patients and physician practices and help patients conveniently complete tasks without taking too much time out of their busy day. Patient portals, such as MyCKHealth, can serve as both a personal health record, i.e. your diagnoses, medications and allergies, as well as provide two-way communications between you and your doctor via secure e-mail. This gives you the opportunity to ask your physician or other providers non-urgent questions or send them important health data such as blood glucose results or blood pressure readings.

These portals commonly include features to make it easier for you to schedule an appointment, request prescription refills or even get a referral. Some doctor’s office can also send you reminders about upcoming appointments or reminders about preventive care services due so you can better manage your health.

Who Uses Patient Portals?

ckhs-stock-images-181Portals are not just for the “internet generation.” Patients of all ages, backgrounds and technical abilities can use a portal. In 2012, the Pew Research Center found that more than half of Americans age 65 and older use the Internet. What I like to ask my patients is “Do you routinely use e-mail or the internet to communicate with friends and family or to shop on line? If the answer is yes, then I encourage patients to try the portal.

Patients are not limited to a computer to access their portal. If they use their phones to check e-mail or surf the web, they can typically access their portals from their phone as well. In fact, an upgrade to the MyCKHealth portal in the next year will include an app for phones and tablets. Surveys of patients nationwide demonstrate that patients want to e-mail their doctors, access their test results, make appointments, refill prescriptions and complete other tasks on line. Crozer-Keystone is committed to making portals easy to use for all patients.

Will My Doctor Use the Patient Portal?

ckhs-stock-images-220Some physicians’ fear they will be overwhelmed with patient messages, but the reality is that most physicians and their practice staff find that using a portal saves times and can be a huge opportunity for improving patient satisfaction. Patients love timely assurance that test results are normal, physicians and staff value having more time on the phones with patients who require calls.

Success with patient portals requires patient tools, ease of use, physician coaching and prompt support if there are questions. While there is no question that portals will not replace the face to face doctor-patient relationship or reassuring phone call, new ways of communicating with your doctor or her office staff are here to stay!

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