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Patient Portals Provide Ease and Accessibility

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By Christine Maynard, Patient Advocate

In 1969, Vice President Spiro T. Agnew vowed publicly that cable television would not fly in America. In his estimation, people would continue to go to the "picture show" to see movies; they would never be broadcast into living rooms across the country. Clearly, technology changed that, giving us the ability to broaden our horizons from the comfort of our own homes.

Technology has also changed how we access information, including our health information. The ability to gather health records online opens many new doors for us as patients. Now, through patient portals, we can view our medical information, from test results to doctor's notes, from our homes or offices.

We no longer have to wait at a doctor's office for the staff to print our records, which some patients incorrectly believe belong to the doctor or hospital. These are our records, and using a portal increases transparency and our ease of access to our records. We don't even have to call the doctor (and wait for a call back) to ask what meds we took previously, to request a refill on a prescription or even to schedule an appointment. There is a place in most portals to ask questions of our doctors, saving us a trip and sometimes a lengthy wait in a room filled with sick people who could be spreading viruses.
It is all at our fingertips in the patient portal.

This does not require being tech savvy. It requires only Internet access, whether from a desktop computer or a smartphone, and a very small learning curve.

Our access to important health information does not begin and end with patient portals, either. We can google medical terms, a diagnosis or a differential, which refers to other possibilities to be considered when looking for a diagnosis. This free self-education provides a clearer picture of our health. There are unlimited opportunities to learn more about our health and what we - and our doctors - can do to improve it, and these learning opportunities are only a click away. Education is everything when it comes to effecting positive change.

Now that we have our medical records at our fingertips, and we can go online and research any terms we don't understand or wish to know more about, we should feel empowered! Health IT is a tool that promotes positive doctor-patient communication.

It only makes sense that as patients like us are empowered, our relationships with our doctors shift. We understand that the ideal health care is a two-way street. Hopefully, a "side effect" of being able to access our records online will be the realization that doctors want us to provide input and to be an active part of the decision making process, asking questions such as, "What are the side effects of statins?" or, "What are the risks and benefits of blood thinners?"

In the popular TV series, "House," Dr. House stated, "All patients lie, and learning what information the patient is withholding is the key to the cure." This is not the attitude fostered in health care today. We are experiencing a paradigm shift, and as patients, we are a tremendous resource and a vital component of our own well-being.

We should not hesitate to use resources like patient portals. It requires only a call to our doctors' offices to request passwords or usernames. As patients, we must get online, get the facts and get engaged in our health!

Christine Maynard, formerly of Natchitoches, La., is an author and journalist who has studied alternative medicine with healers in many parts of the world. As the survivor of a serious motor vehicle accident that placed her in a medically induced coma and required many surgeries, she is well aware of the difficulties patients face in navigating the health care system. Her unique perspective has inspired her to become a patient advocate whose most important message to doctors and patients is that the patient is the doctor's greatest resource.

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  • Frances Johnston Wednesday, 09 September 2015

    Working in a doctors office and going through trying to teach patients about the portal is very frustrating.
    This is a very good article about the portal that all patients need to know about. Thank You

  • Christine Thursday, 17 September 2015

    Thank you for your input. You bring up a very important point about who bears the brunt of the additional burden in this learning curve, about medical portals. Yes, it is the ones with the least available time- nurses, office managers and staff. Collectively, we can come up with more facile ways to make this work. Patient liaisons and advocates are an important part of the puzzle. With patience and education, the innovation of portals will be embraced...just as leaf blowers were in the 80's!

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