Health Information

Using Patient Portals

Image for online medical consulting A growing number of patients are turning to the Web to access healthcare information. In response to this demand, more and more physicians and hospitals are using "patient portals" as gateways for patients to find information.

Patients can also communicate with their physicians and access services using patient portals. Here is some information to help you understand how.

What Are Patient Portals?

A patient portal is a website you can use to securely interact with your doctor's office to perform some of the routine, health-related tasks that you would normally conduct at the office or by phone.

When Do You Use Patient Portals?

Most patient portals allow you to conduct the following tasks:

  • Update your doctor about your condition or medications
  • Clarify advice given to you during an office visit
  • Ask general health questions that do not require a routine examination
  • Request appointments, prescriptions, and referrals
  • Obtain reliable health and disease information
  • View and pay bills

If you choose to communicate with your doctor using a patient portal, you should keep your messages to your doctor clear and concise. Take the time to organize your thoughts. Remember that the message you send will become part of your medical record.

When Not to Use Patient Portals

If you have a new medical problem that needs to be diagnosed, you can use the patient portal to make an appointment for an office visit. That way, your doctor can conduct a physical exam and ask additional questions.

You should also never use a patient portal if you have a medical emergency and need a quick answer. Difficulty breathing, bleeding, or severe abdominal pain all require immediate, personal medical attention.

Benefits

Well-educated, web-savvy people seem to be the most comfortable with patient portals. But, they are not the only ones. Communicating with a doctor's office online may solve transportation problems for older adults or people who cannot drive.

An increasing number of physicians and hospitals are using patient portals to communicate. If you'd like added healthcare convenience, then a practice that has a patient portal may be right for you.

  • American Medical Association

    http://www.ama-assn.org/

  • National Library of Medicine

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/

  • The College of Family Physicians of Canada

    http://www.cfpc.ca/

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Adler KG. Web portals in primary care: an evaluation of patient readiness and willingness to pay for online services. J Med Internet Res. 2006 Oct 26;8(4):e26.

  • The use of electronic mail. American Medical Association website. Available at: http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics/opinion5026.page . Published June 2003. Accessed September 17, 2012.

  • Online patient-provider communication tools: an overview (November 2003). California HealthCare Foundation website. Available at: http://www.chcf.org/topics/view.cfm?itemid=21600 . Accessed September 17, 2012.

  • Umefjord G, Sandström H, Malker H, Petersson G. Medical text-based consultations on the Internet: a 4-year study. Int J Med Inform . 2008 Feb;77(2):114-21. Epub 2007 Feb 20.