5 things I want my patient portal to do


Even the most common functions of the average patient portal are pretty impressive. Patients can check test results, request prescription refills and make appointments without actually having to talk to a human being. It's not hard to see how those functions can improve patient satisfaction and make life a little easier--not only for patients but also for front-line staff.

The technology is not exactly commonplace--in one recent survey, only 30 percent of physicians said they use patient portals. But as the number of providers that do offer patient portals rises, so too will consumers' expectations of them. I've been using my provider's patient portal for at least a couple years now. And I'm getting a little bored--even frustrated--with what once seemed innovative.

Here are just five things I wish my provider's patient portal offered:

1. Short-term reminders: I'm terrible at following up on my doc's directions. At my last physical, my doctor said I had six months to get my cholesterol under control on my own or she'd put me on medication. That was 18 months ago. A post-visit checklist would surely be handy: Get this lab test, schedule an appointment with this specialist, refill this prescription, try these exercises and follow these food guidelines. I could go online and check them off as I complete them. Better yet, the system could send me a reminder if I haven't checked them off within a certain amount of time. And at my next visit my doc would be able to see my progress (or lack thereof) at a glance, perhaps making the short time we have together a little more productive.

2. Annual alerts: Speaking of which, it would have been nice to get a reminder that I am six months overdue for my annual physical. My doctor used to use an automated reminder system for annual exams. You'd get a call from a robot, press one to make an appointment, talk to a human being and done. The portal's online appointment scheduler, in theory at least, eliminated the need for that. Except the portal doesn't offer the equivalent of an automated phone call. You either remember ... or you don't. Annual exams aren't just bread and butter business for physicians--they're also key to healthcare's goal of not only treating disease but preventing it.

3. Alerts for my physician: I'm not the only one who forgot that my physical was overdue or that I never followed up with a second cholesterol test. If the portal can send a note to my doctor when I've requested an appointment, surely it could send her office a note when I've forgotten to request an appointment. Yes, I am ultimately responsible for making appointments. But with coordinated care, it's going to become increasingly important for my primary provider to lend me a hand.   

4. Personalization: I have health goals--be more active, lose some weight, eat healthier. Oh, and did I mention I need to get my cholesterol under control? I'd love to be able to track my progress on my portal. There's some controversy over whether patients should be able to edit their own health records. In general, patients like the idea. And in general, providers are horrified. But surely there's some information I could enter on my own. I think a portal that lets me track my own weight, for example, would make me more engaged in that particular goal and make me more accountable for it, as well.

5. Supplemental information: I can click on a list in my test results and get the definitions of good and bad cholesterol and some context, such as healthy ranges. But how about some links to information about how to do that? Foods to avoid, for example, or healthy recipes. Again, we want patients to take charge of their own health and promote wellness--and portals can help accomplish that goal.

I'm sure there are organizations out there that do offer these "extras" and more on their patient portals. But they should be standard.

Meanwhile, I haven't even complained (yet) about the fact that I can't access my portal on my phone's browser or that it doesn't have the option to receive alerts via text message.

So what functions does your organization's portal offer? What functions do you plan to offer in the future? And since we are all consumers of healthcare (yes, even health IT professionals) what would do you wish your own patient portal could do? - Gienna (@Gienna)