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Patient portals - an online tool for your health

A patient portal is a website for your personal health care. The online tool helps you to keep track of your health care provider visits, test results, billing, prescriptions, and so on. You can also e-mail your provider questions through the portal.

Many providers now offer patient portals. For access, you will need to set up an account. The service is free. A password is used so that all of your information is private and secure.

What is in a Patient Portal?

With a patient portal, you can:

  • Make appointments (non-urgent)
  • Request referrals
  • Refill prescriptions
  • Check benefits
  • Update insurance or contact information
  • Make payments to your provider's office
  • Complete forms
  • Ask questions through secure e-mail

You also may be able to view:

  • Test results
  • Visit summaries
  • Your medical history including allergies, immunizations, and medicines
  • Patient-education articles

Some portals even offer e-visits. It is like a house call. For minor issues, such as a small wound or rash, you can get diagnosis and treatment options online. This saves you a trip to the provider's office. E-visits cost around $30.

How do I use a Patient Portal?

If your provider offers a patient portal, you will need a computer and internet connection to use it. Follow the instructions to register for an account. Once you are in your patient portal, you can click the links to perform basic tasks. You can also communicate with your provider's office in the message center.

If you have a child under age 18, you may be given access to your child's patient portal, too.

Providers can also get in touch with you through the portal. You may receive reminders and alerts. You will receive an email asking you to log in to your patient portal for a message.

The Benefits of a Patient Portal

With a patient portal:

  • You can access your secure personal health information and be in touch with your provider's office 24 hours a day. You do not need to wait for office hours or returned phone calls to have basic issues resolved.
  • You can access all of your personal health information from all of your providers in one place. If you have a team of providers, or see specialists regularly, they can all post results and reminders in a portal. Providers can see what other treatments and advice you are getting. This can lead to better care and better management of your medicines.
  • E-mail reminders and alerts help you to remember things like annual checkups and flu shots.

When to Call the Doctor

Patient portals are not for urgent issues. If your need is time-sensitive, you should still call your provider's office.

Alternative Names

Personal health record (PHR)

References

Adler KG. Making a case for online physician-patient communication. Fam Pract Manag. 2008;15(5):A3-A6. PMID: 18546800 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18546800.

Lyles CR, Sarkar U, Ralston JD, et al. Patient-provider communication and trust in relation to use of an online patient portal among diabetes patients: The Diabetes and Aging Study. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2013;20(6):1128-1131. PMID: 23676243 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23676243.

What is a patient portal? Updated November 2, 2015. www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/faqs/what-patient-portal. Accessed October 19, 2016.

Review Date 9/3/2016

Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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