Patient Portals: Friend or Foe?

Patient portals are web-based tools that allow patients to interact with their healthcare providers via the internet and messaging.

Risk Management

Patient Portals: Friend or Foe?

The latest development in healthcare communication is the use of patient portals. They are web-based tools that allow patients to interact with their healthcare providers via the internet and messaging.

But to use patient portals D.C.s must make the transition to EHRs, and many healthcare professionals have not done so. This likely because many have become accustomed to keeping “paper” charts over the course of their careers.

These typically consist of handwritten narrative notes, abbreviations, and checkmarks or circles on templates. While such methods of recordkeeping were not problematic in the past, these notes are not electronically stored, and EHRs are now the norm. There are even predictions that paper charts will someday be obsolete.

Other reasons D.C.s resist converting to EHRs from paper charts may be due to their habits, dislike of change, the high cost of software and other reasons. However, there are many positives in making the change, including taking advantage of patient portals.

Healthcare Goes Online: Patient Portals

Patient portals have been around for a while, have become increasingly common, are clearly the wave of the future, and will someday be the standard.

Patient portal applications can exist in a number of different forms, the most common being a stand-alone website. The important thing, no matter what kind of application a provider chooses, is that patients have easy but secure access to their clinical information online.

The healthcare industry has been shifting its focus to patient-centered care, and more patients are seeking health resources online. From the patient’s perspective, they benefit from patient portals because they can view and supplement their healthcare history, view and update allergy and medication lists, send messages to the doctor’s office, complete registration and consent forms, request appointments, and view account statements and pay healthcare bills online. Practice hours are less of a concern because patients typically can use the portals for these tasks 24/7.

Portals Also Benefit the Practice

Not only do online portals support greater patient involvement, but they also can help providers increase office efficiency and streamline workflows by moving non-urgent communications from the practice to online. Patient portals allow providers to communicate with patients through secure messages, post test results, send reminder notices, make billing information available and provide patient education materials.

From a convenience standpoint,  one of the things many D.C.s will find appealing about patient portals is that they give patients the opportunity to schedule their appointments online. This feature frees up more of the staff’s time, and they can be left to do other tasks.

Along these lines, staff members often like the significantly reduced amount of time they must spend with patients on the phone. Patients can (and often do) become quite talkative on the phone, sharing more information than is needed and asking more questions than can be answered. Because typing requires more effort than talking, patients provide less extraneous information via patient portals and their questions become fewer and more pointed.

Patient portals are a much better way of exchanging information than text messages and emails, which are not secure and create exposure to allegations of HIPAA violations. Moreover, many people want almost instant responses to emails and texts, as though the doctor was a social friend planning an evening out. Of course, this is neither practical nor, at times, possible. For these reasons, among others, healthcare providers should not communicate with patients by emails and texts. If communicating with patients electronically is important, patient portals should be used.

Finally, it is very important that practitioners educate patients so they understand that certain situations cannot be handled through portal communications, but require face-to-face visits. If a patient has a sudden onset of new, severe pain, that patient probably needs to be seen. Additionally, chest pain or stroke-like symptoms require an immediate visit to the ER, or even a 9-1-1 call.

The information in the NCMIC Learning Center is offered solely for general information and educational purposes. It is not offered as, nor does it represent, legal or professional advice. Neither does this information constitute a guideline, practice parameter or standard of care. You should not act or rely upon this information without seeking the advice of an attorney familiar with the specific legal requirements of the state(s) in which you practice. If there is a discrepancy between the site and an insurance policy you have with NCMIC, the policy will prevail.