Posted By Monique Dever On November 26, 2014

Are local health departments ready to share medical information via patient portal?

As part of federal meaningful use, clinics are required to communicate with patients via a Patient portal. Engaging patients in their healthcare and sharing medical information via a patient portal is expected to improve outcomes. By logging into a web-based patient portal, patients can view select information such as allergies, medication list, problems list, and lab results. Engaging patients is also important in other areas of interest, such as population health management and chronic disease monitoring for patients. But are Local health departments ready to share medical information with patients? As a first step, health departments need to implement a federally certified, Meaningful Use compliant, Electronic Health Record (EHR) software. Once EHR is implemented, patient engagement is possible via the EHR patient portal.  Let’s review some key findings of a study on patient portal use.


The study was conducted by Virginia-based researchers who tracked 8 practices over a 30-month period. These practices were smaller facilities where cost and resources can make implementation a challenge. However, once they adopted an EHR and began engaging patients, per meaningful use requirements, the portal usage improved close to 1% per month, ranging from 22.1% to 27.9% in overall increases.


Ten months into the study, Electronic Laboratory Results (ELR) were added to the health records, making lab results visible to the patient through the portal. Five of the eight practices that fully utilized the lab feature saw higher increases (in portal use) overall than those facilities that did not. Additionally, by sharing normal lab results via the patient portal, clinics can save time and effort associated with call backs.


So, what are the considerations for starting to use patient portal? Here are some things to consider:


  1. Learn about patient portal and Meaningful Use.
  2. Ensure that you get a federally ONC certified EHR. Make sure that the EHR is “complete” rather than “modular” certified. A complete EHR has 100% of federally required functionality while modular EHR has only partial functionality. Also, ensure that the patient portal is included in the price and not a separate add-on cost.
  3. Before getting patients involved in using the portal, make sure that your staff is completely comfortable with using the EHR for patient registration, billing and clinical charting. Getting your staff completely proficient may take a few months.
  4. Review your privacy and security policies with IT – you can use this as a chance to review HIPAA compliance.
  5. Get ready to share information via a patient portal. Have internal discussions about policies and procedures. For example, who is going to collect patient emails, answer patient questions etc.?
  6. Patient portal implementation is only a start of engaging patients electronically. A modern and innovative EHR can help you further streamline your processes while reducing workload i.e. meaningful use is just a start to automation. Start thinking about how to use the new technology.


The conclusion of the study is important. Researchers determined that the increase of portal usage by patients had a direct correlation to the decisions made at the practice level, underscoring the importance of systems and workflows.


It is best to use a team approach in notifying patients about the portal, rather than relying solely on the clinician. Front desk staff, nurses, and clinicians can all be engaged to communicate with the patient, explaining features and benefits of portal use, and reminding the patient to use it.


Include the use of Electronic Laboratory Results in the health records. This will not only benefit the patient but can also improve the workflow and save time for the clinicians. It can also help generate after-care summaries for patients – complying with meaningful use requirements.


With patient portal implementation, healthcare providers and public health departments can improve patient-provider communication, engage patients, and monitor and maintain care between visits to meet the overall goal of improved patient outcomes.


Read more on Meaningful Use Measure #7…Patient Electronic Access – #7 of 17 Meaningful Use Core MeasuresObjective: Provide patients the ability to view online, download and transmit their health information within four business days of the information being available to the eligible provider.

About Monique Dever

Monique integrates research and networking with her passion for health and well-being to provide important, up-to-date news, resources and current events to the public health communities. She is the Marketing Executive for Patagonia Health, an Electronic Health Records (EHR) software company focused on the public health sector.