First experience with a patient portal is underwhelming

I'm no longer in the dark when it comes to understanding patient portals. I'm now a registered user with one, and I have to say I'm underwhelmed--but I am reserving final judgment until the lab results come back or I actually have to use it for an important communication.

I went to see my internist this week for a routine check-up, and was pleasantly surprised to be handed a personalized sheet of paper with a PIN to use the practice's new portal. It said, "In using our new patient portal, you can securely communicate with our office anytime that is convenient to you and will be able to:

  • Request an appointment
  • Request medication refills
  • Request a referral
  • Email our billing specialist
  • Email your doctor (non-urgent clinical questions)
  • Access your medical records."

It all sounded good. It demonstrated to me that the practice had come a long way with its Sage Intergy EMR in the year-and-a-half since I last visited. It also suggested that these doctors were well on their way to "meaningful use" and the Medicare bonus payments that it entails. (Quit your snickering. I don't qualify for Medicare for another 25 years.)

I came home and set up my account. All my demographic and insurance information was correct. So was the note of me being allergic to sulfa drugs. But there was little else to see. My medication list was blank--even though I know the most tech-savvy of the five physicians in the practice personally entered my med history into the EMR the last time I was there. It could have been because I'm not currently taking any drugs prescribed by anyone in this practice, but that still concerns me. What if one of these docs needed to prescribe something for me? How can you run a drug-drug interaction check if you don't know the patient's current medication list? I know you can't qualify for meaningful use without a complete list.

My doctor promised me a phone call when the blood work comes back from the lab, as he's always done. I'm still going to check the portal in a week or so to see if the values show up there. After all, what good is a portal view into my medical record if I can't actually see any actual components of my medical record? It's not good enough for meaningful use and, frankly, it's not good enough for me. - Neil