Patient portals make accessing your health information easy

June 12, 2013 By Jeff Finkelstein, M.D.

What if you could get your medical records without leaving home, or message your doctor's office to request an appointment or ask a question about a health condition?

A patient portal may allow you to do these and more. Patient portals give you online access to your medical information; and many allow you to interact with your healthcare providers. Patient portals work much like online banking: You go to a secure website with a login screen, and after entering your user name and password, you're connected to your information stored on the hospital or doctor's office electronic medical record system.

Like online banking systems, patient portals have security measures in place to protect your information from unauthorized access. Patient portals must also meet strict HIPAA patient privacy laws.

Features vary from portal to portal, but nearly all allow access to your medical record or a summary. This may include:

• Your medical history, including conditions, medication allergies and immunizations
• Dates of recent and upcoming hospital or doctor's office appointments
• Information from past hospital or doctor' office visits, including diagnoses, treatments, lab and other test results and hospital discharge information or physician instructions.
• Medications you're taking now and have taken in the past

Many portals also allow you to access information for a parent, spouse, or significant other who wants to rely on you to manage or obtain updates on their health information, provided that person gives you written authorization.

Just as you can pay bills or transfer funds with online banking, you may be able to perform certain functions with patient portals, like scheduling appointments, requesting prescription refills and/or securely messaging your healthcare providers.

Another benefit of many patient portals is that they allow you to create your own personal health record (PHR), where you can record your weight, blood pressure and other vital signs, physical activities, diet and other information. You can print and share your PHR information with new doctors; access it while traveling; or use the information to help you reach weight, exercise and other wellness goals.

Not all hospitals and physician offices offer patient portals, but they will likely become more common as more healthcare providers adopt electronic medical records. The federal government is encouraging the adoption of electronic records and other technologies by offering financial incentives to healthcare providers that implement and demonstrate “meaningful use” of these technologies.

If your hospital or physician offices offer a patient portal, take advantage of it. Most portals are free to register for and use, and provide an easy, convenient way for you to play a greater role in your care and take charge of your health.

Jeff Finkelstein, M.D., FACEP, is chief of Emergency Medicine at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.