An Introduction to Patient Portals in Healthcare

By Saleha Vhora, RHIA


In today’s time, we all want to be connected – connected to the important people and information that have an impact in our lives. As a result, more and more patients want to play an active role in their health care.  This is why patient portals have been developed. A patient portal is an electronic Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant communication channel between patients and their providers. With the use of the internet, a patient portal gives patients the ability to interact with their medical information. This is beneficial in many ways.  The most important benefit the patient portal provides is that it helps meet the Stage 2 requirement of Meaningful Use.

One criterion of Stage 2 Meaningful Use is that more than 10 percent of all patients must have timely access to their health information within four business days.  According to the United States Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the timely access to health information must include laboratory test results, problem lists, medication lists, and medication allergy lists. It is almost impossible to meet this criterion without a patient portal. The patient portal integrates with the electronic health record (EHR) system and provides patients with a secure online account in which to view their medical record anytime and anywhere.

Another criterion of Meaningful Use is for 50% of patients to have access to clinical summaries within three business days for each office visit. This requirement can be met by printing out the clinical summary right after the visit and mailing it immediately that evening or the next day. This can be quite a hassle!  A patient portal makes it easier by connecting to the electronic medical record (EMR), which automatically shows patients their clinical summary after it has been completed and approved.

Patient portals are very easy to access. A quick way to access the patient portal would be through Healow, a free Android app launched by eClinicalWorks. Healow provides automatic medication reminders with features such as allowing patients to name their medications and send a refill request to the doctor when the medications are running low. Healow also helps reduce the number of repetitive tests by having access to recent results.

One of the major projects I had as a student in the Health Information Management program at University of Illinois at Chicago was working in a team to help a clinic or hospital improve a process. My team members and I worked on our project with SS Medical Service. Along with the clinic’s EHR specialist, we assisted the clinic in meeting the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) requirements. As a team, we analyzed the clinic’s current EHR system, Practice Fusion. Within Practice Fusion, there is Patient Fusion – the patient portal. We were able to help the clinic meet most of the requirements by using Patient Fusion. Some of the features we introduced to the physician included e-prescribing and e-referrals. Also, instead of calling the patients for their appointment reminders, the clinic could send an appointment reminder to the patient via email. This has saved the clinic a lot of time and they are able to meet most of the NCQA requirements. These are just some of the benefits the patient portal can provide.

There is always fear and resistance to change when adapting to a new form of technology. However, with proper motivation and real understanding of the benefits the patient portal can provide, more people will start using it.  Given the widespread usage of technology, it is time to take advantage of the patient portal and positively change the way healthcare is delivered.



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