The Patient Portal
By Kristina Englert
One of the hottest new things that you’ll hear about at probably every doctor’s office that you visit is the concept of a Patient Portal. This idea has been around for at least the past five or ten years, but new government regulations have really increased the amount of attention it is getting. Offices are required to offer access to a Patient Portal to at least a portion of their patients – which is why suddenly every doctor you see is probably handing you a piece of paper with a website and instructions on how to log in.
At which point, you are probably asking several questions: What on earth is a Patient Portal? Why am I being asked to do this again when I just signed up for one at another doctor’s office last month? Am I required to do this? How do I get registered?
These are all excellent questions.
A Patient Portal can come in many different formats, but the basic definition is that it is a way to connect to your doctor’s office securely via the internet. This means that you can view your records, send questions to your doctor, and sometimes even do things like request prescription refills or schedule appointments.
The medical world is working hard towards standardization, but unfortunately it is a work in progress. There are a wide variety of companies who offer this service, and so your family doctor may have signed you up for My Chart, but our office uses Follow My Health. Both of these share the same basic idea, but are run by two different companies. So for now, it means having to set up two different accounts, since the two different computer systems cannot talk to each other.
If the internet is not the easiest way for you to communicate with a doctor’s office, then you are by no means required to sign up for a Patient Portal account. The existing system of calling in to an office to take care of the things that you need is still perfectly functional. It is up to you to decide what the best method is for you.
There are some definite benefits to having a Patient Portal account. For starters, you can gain immediate access to your records. Without an account, you would have to call in to the office (or send a written request), and then wait until records could be copied/mailed/faxed to you. With a Portal, you can log in 24 hours a day, and instantly have what you need.
Direct communication with your physician is also a plus. Sometimes getting a lot of information over the phone can be overwhelming – just the names of medications can be difficult to catch when discussing them verbally, let alone trying to write them down along with instructions. Having a message in your Patient Portal guarantees that you can return to view the information at any time, or even share it with a family member to help you understand things that are confusing.
Several specialized requests can be made through our Patient Portal, including prescription refill requests and appointment requests. You can also use a credit card to make a payment on a balance. Demographic information like address, phone number, and even preferred pharmacy can be updated for the office.
Forms and documentation can also be sent through the Portal. For example, after you have a visit in our office, our check-out staff may hand you a piece of paper with a summary of your visit, or educational information about a new diagnosis. These can be sent to you in your Portal so that they will be waiting for you to refer to later – no chance of losing the paper in the meantime!
So, how does our Patient Portal actually work, and how do you register?
Our Patient Portal here at Digestive Disease Associates is managed by a company called Follow My Health. When you come into the office, you will be asked to provide an e-mail address. An invitation will be sent to you, and you will be given a set of instructions that tell you how to access your account for the first time. Below are two of the most common questions we get from patients about Follow My Health.
A: When you register for your account, you will be given six options for logging in. Five allow you to use existing usernames and passwords: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Live, and Cerner Health. If you already use one of these types of accounts, it will make it very easy for you to log into your patient portal without having to remember another password. Do not worry that your information will be shared! For example, if you use the Facebook login, your information will never be posted to your page for anyone to see. It is just a method of logging into the account.
The last option is to create a username and password that is only used for Follow My Health. The only downside to this option is that we cannot see any of this information – so if you forget your username, we cannot help you to remember it. All we can do is completely disconnect your account and have you start over. As long as you know your username, the system will help you to remember your password using security questions.
If this is your preferred login method, we recommend that you use the first part of your email address as your username. It will not let you use the entire email address – but, if your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, you could just use “digestivedisease74” as your username.
A: We recommend using a regular desktop computer for the actual registration process. The phone or tablet app can be useful once the account is set up, but the registration process through the app can be difficult.
If you are having difficulty registering, you are welcome to call our office. Our Patient Portal experts will be happy to assist you with the registration process (and can even set up an account for you!), or work through any problems that you may have, once your account is set up.
It may seem like a lot of effort to get started, but a Patient Portal account can be a very useful means of communication and record-keeping. We at Digestive Disease Associates are always looking for ways to streamline the navigation process through our office and want to make your patient experience as painless and headache-free as possible. We are proud to offer our user-friendly electronic communication program to our patients, so if helpful to you, we hope you will consider registering for our Patient Portal!