A patient portal is a website or mobile app that allows a patient to access their patient health record (PHR), which is a portion of their entire electronic health record that’s kept by their healthcare provider. PHRs include information such as diagnoses, medications and allergies, and may also provide copies of office visit notes. Additionally, some portals provided by physicians or hospitals allow patients to schedule visits, renew their medications and obtain patient instructions and educational tools.

Initially, patient portals were designed to meet regulatory Medicare standards and were minimal in their scope of engagement. Regardless of what’s provided in a portal, what wasn’t recognized in the initial stages of portal development and implementation is the fact that patient engagement does not equate to patient empowerment. Although electronic health records (EHRs) are now mobile, they aren’t as user-friendly as they could be. Because mobility is such a big part of our daily lives, the healthcare industry must be able to deliver a seamless mobile experience to both patients and providers. According to the Health Information National Trends Survey, PHR adoption will exceed 75 percent by 2020. Below are the top five must-haves in mobile patient portals.

1. Scheduling Capabilities

We use our mobile devices daily to schedule everything from business meetings to haircuts. Some mobile calendar apps can be applied generically to all tasks, or vendors can provide proprietary ones for their customers. For example, the famously successful Zocdoc provides patients or prospective patients with physician information, reviews and the ability to schedule appointments. Healthcare providers should ensure that their patient portal has scheduling capabilities in order to improve efficiency and patient satisfaction, as well as eliminate precious empty appointment slots.

2. Clear Test Results and Office Note Access

While most patient portals make test results available to patients, few individuals are able to translate the “medicalese” of dictated reports, or determine if a lab value with an asterisk is worth losing sleep over. Imagine if there were a technology to put medical terms and the significance of various test results into plain English. To address this issue, many providers are participating in OpenNotes, which provides office visit notes via the patient portal in the hope that patients will have improved understanding and increased participation in their care if they’re able to see these notes. When patients see a doctor, very few can actually understand the encounter to the point of recalling it and explaining it to someone else (this is known as health literacy). Allowing patients to view their doctors’ notes on the portal can go far in increasing their understanding and recollection of their visit.

3. Messaging With Clinicians

Most patients would like to message their physicians or other clinicians with questions or comments, and many technologies today offer this in a private and secure manner. Enabling patients to use their mobile portal to message doctors eliminates phone tag and increases patient satisfaction. The improvement in patient/doctor communication could also potentially translate into increased patient safety and a decrease in malpractice suits.

4. Education Tools

Patients and caregivers are thirsty for digital tools that can help them navigate their healthcare information. Companies like Emmi, Orca Health and others deliver evidence-based information in a health-literate manner that includes graphics and animation. Including digital tools on your patients’ mobile portal allows patients to view them in a relaxed setting at home, share them with caregivers and family members and reference them again if needed.

5. Ability to Check Prescriptions and Refills

The ability to automate the process of prescription refills saves time for both patients and providers, and avoids unnecessary gaps in care. Make sure patients have the ability to view and refill all their medications through their portal, and that their allergy list is always readily available.

The patient portal is a critical component of patient engagement. Even if a patient isn’t digitally enabled, a relative and caregiver usually will be. The opportunity for patients to obtain their own health information, which enables shared medical decision-making, has never been greater. The healthcare industry’s implementation of this technology and awareness of potential improvements to its current offerings will transform how care is delivered.

Digital healthcare improves communication between patients and doctors, resulting in improved satisfaction among both parties. Find out about more digital healthcare technology that’s changing the industry.

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David Lee Scher

David Lee Scher, MD is Director at DLS Healthcare Consulting. Scher is a thought leader in digital health and blogs at his award-winning site, “The Digital Health Corner.” He’s held leadership roles as a cardiologist, Medicare Advisory Committee member, and medical device marketing advisory board member. He was Chair of the HIMSS Mobile Health Roadmap Task Force, and a member of the mHealth Regulatory Coalition. Scher is Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Diseases, and Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology. Follow David on Twitter @dlschermd

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