Health Information Exchange (HIE) focuses on the mobilization of healthcare information electronically across organizations within a region or community. HIE provides the capability to electronically move clinical information between disparate health... Series. Part 6 of 6.
Up to this post, the discussion of health information exchanges in this series has focused on how they can be set up and utilized by a healthcare organization. While HIE architecture types and communication methods typically only involve IT staff, this post will briefly discuss portals, which brings the HIE to the more personal patient and physician levels.
Merriam-Webster defines portal in different ways, but this definition is most applicable to an HIE: “A site serving as a guide or point of entry to the World Wide Web [HIE] and usually including a search engine or a collection of links to other sites arranged especially by topic.”
So, what exactly do portals have to do with HIEs?
Not all physicians will be able to connect to a regional HIE for various reasons, such as lack of an advanced Electronic Medical Record (EMR), as defined in Defining Key Health Information Technology Terms (The National Alliance for Health Information Technology, April 28, 2008): An electronic record of health-related information on an individual that can be... or he or she may be a specialist not involved with routine or emergency care. These physicians will have the ability to access their regional HIE’s physician portal to view a specific patient’s treatment history, providing valuable health data that may be useful prior to performing a procedure.
For patients, portals link them to the process of health data exchange. In the future, the patient’s total health record – regardless of where the care was received – will be viewable in a patient portal. This is extremely valuable because patients will have the ability to correct errors in the health record if they exist, and be reminded of previous care they have received.
Additionally, a portal is an access point for both patients and health providers that provide a convenient platform to communicate through various methods, which differ among portal vendors. Some portals allow only basic communication in the form of offering patients the ability to schedule or reschedule appointments, request a prescription refill and complete paperwork prior to their next appointment.
Other, more robust portals – especially those built to meet Meaningful Use Sections 170.304(h) and 170.306(d) – allow patients to access clinical summaries and electronic copies of their health information. In terms of offering a true communication method between patient and physician, some portals give the patient the option to send a text (SMS) message or an email directly to his or her physician.
Let me try and personalize this one step further: My personal physician’s office offers a patient portal, which is accessible from their website. After entering my login and password, I can update personal information (address, insurance, etc.), request an appointment, request a prescription refill, request a referral, and submit a billing question. The portal offers two additional – rather valuable – services for an additional fee of $50 per patient, per year: the ability view my medical record and the ability to email my doctor.
While I don’t appreciate this fee, it’s important to put things in perspective because the available free options are tremendous advances in opening the doors of communication between patients and our caregivers. Giving patients the ability to bypass the patient calling tree and to directly communicate with the provider about billing questions or simple prescription refills will likely improve patient satisfaction.
Additionally, the portal will give the provider better access to the patient, with the ability to send email reminders that it is time to schedule an annual physical or information about valuable health resources for specific chronic diseases.
An accurate patient health record is vital for quality care because it can prevent repeat examinations and provide every provider with access to pre-existing medical conditions that may actually save a patient’s life in the event of an emergency or in the case of a patient’s faulty memory of his or her treatment history.
Portals truly have the potential to directly connect patients to their care, which is the true reason behind health information exchange.
Topics in this HIE series include:
Part 1: Health Information Exchange: What’s the Motivation? 
Part 2: Architecture Types 
Part 3: Despite Momentum, HIE Sustainability a Concern 
Part 4: The Building Blocks of HIEs: A Glossary of Terms 
Part 5: HIE Communication Methods 
Part 6: HIE Physician and Patient Portals