Patient Portals: Putting the Power in the Patients’ Hands

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Whether you’ve been in healthcare for over twenty years or under two, you know the cardinal rules of medicine: First, do no harm. Second, the patient is king. Or is that the customer? Regardless of how I’ve mixed up my maxims, the saying still holds true for patient care. But you may have noticed a missing ingredient… one that’s staring you right in the face from his position on the examination table. Perhaps the secret to improving patient care is in putting the power in the patient’s hands.patient portals power patients hands

Let me tell you another not-so-secret secret: this is where electronic health records (EHR) software comes in handy with a special feature called the patient portal.

“Patients are the most underutilized resource in all of healthcare.”

These are the words of cancer survivor Dave deBronkart in an interview with Health IT. Dave was diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer in 2007 and learned via an internet search that the typical life expectancy for his condition was 24 weeks. He became convinced that he would die before his daughter’s wedding. However, something key happened: Dave’s doctor gave him a prescription—not for medicine but an online community. The network of cancer patients helped him find a new treatment  and emailed him a list of specialists in his area that could provide it. But he also found something else out on top of all that: “Patients know what other patients want to know.”

Patients also know what doctors need to know.

Dave discovered, after accessing his health records, that there was a lot of missing or incorrect information on his health history that he could fill in or correct. His life was saved because he had access to the information he needed to know to save it.

Patient engagement is a growing trend in the healthcare industry. After all, the internet allows patients to educate and engage themselves in their healthcare more than ever before. It’s not a trend that can be suppressed, but rather focused in ways that can benefit everyone involved, both the care provider and receiver. That’s why patient portals are an important aspect of the criteria being defined for Meaningful Use in the EHR Incentives Program.

Unfortunately, most practices employ only a very basic EHR. They fail to enable patient access to their medical records and other tools integrated into a fully functioning patient portal.

What exactly is a patient portal?

A patient portal is a web-based access point that allows doctors and patients to communicate and share health information remotely, supplementing the ongoing management of the patient’s care. Patient portals provide patients with the information they need to know including medication notices, online doctors’ notes, patient networks, and of course, access to health records.

Here is the bottom line: patient access to health records can save lives. This is why meeting Meaningful Use Criteria is important for more than just getting the benefits provided by the EHR Incentives program (or avoiding the penalties for not meeting the Meaningful Use criteria). Giving patients access to their medical records allows them greater power over their own fate- important, considering that the patients are the ones with the greatest stakes in their records being as accurate as possible.

Before purchasing an EHR, make sure your practice looks into the types of patient access provided by the system. You can be the most caring doctor in the world, but with a busy schedule information can slip through the cracks . Who better than the patients themselves to ensure they receive the best treatment possible?

Looking for Electronic Medical Records software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Electronic Medical Records software solutions.

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About the Author

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Molly Earner

Molly Earner is a software analyst for Capterra, a company that loves connecting buyers and sellers of business software. When she's not writing about medical software, you can find her on the soccer field or marathoning episodes of The X-Files.

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