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What Does Direct Messaging Look Like for MU2?

Posted on June 11, 2014 I Written By

Julie Maas is Founder and CEO of EMR Direct, a HISP (Health Information Service Provider) whose mission is to simplify interoperability in healthcare through the use of Direct messaging EHR integration and other applications. EMR Direct works with a large developer community to enable Direct for MU2 and other workflows using a custom, rapid-integration API that's part of the phiMail Direct Messaging platform. Julie is passionate about improving quality of care and software user experience, and manages ongoing interoperability testing within DirectTrust. Find Julie on Twitter @JulieWMaas.

I’m often asked what EHR integrations of Direct are supposed to look like.  In the simplest sense, I liken it to a Share button and suggest that such a button—typically labeled “Transmit”—be placed in context near the CCDA that’s the target of the transmit action, or in a workflow-friendly spot on a patient record screen.

Send a CCD Using Direct Messaging

Send CCD using Direct in OpenEMR

The receive side is similarly intuitive: the practice classifies how their incoming records are managed today and we map that process to one or more Direct addresses.  If we get stuck, I ask, “What is the workflow for faxes today–how many fax numbers are there, and how are they allocated?”  This usually helps clear things up:  as a starting point, a Direct address can be assigned to replace each fax endpoint.

The address structure raises an important question, because it is tightly tied to the Direct messaging user interface.  Should there be a Direct address for every EHR user?  Provider?  Department? Organization?  A separate address for the patient portal?  A patient portal that spans multiple provider organizations? One for every patient?

The rules around counting Direct messages for Transitions of Care (ToC) attestation do not require each provider to have their own Direct address, as long as the EHR can count transactions correctly for attestation.  As far as meaningful use is concerned, any reasonable address assignment method should be acceptable in ToC use cases (check the rules themselves, for full details).  Here are some examples.

records@orthodocs.ehrco-example.com is clearly an address that could be shared by multiple users, though it could be used by just one person, and might be used for both transitions of care and patient portal transmit.

janesmith@orthodocs.hisp-example.com could also be dual-purpose.  Jane might be the only authorized user of this address, or this address may be managed by a group of people at her practice that does not necessarily even include Jane.  Alternatively, this address could be used for Jane’s ToC transactions, while a patientportal@someother.domain-example.com address could be used for patient portal transmit.

So, any of the options proposed above are possible conventions for assigning Direct addresses.  Also, a patient does not need their own Direct address to Transmit from as part of the View, Download, Transmit measure (170.314(e)(1)), but might have their own address to transmit to.  Note that adding a little extra data can elevate a View, Download, Transmit implementation to BlueButton+ status.

It makes sense for patients and providers to have their own Direct addresses if they are using Direct for Secure Messaging – 170.314(e)(3) – for which Direct is an optional solution.  Or, if patients have their own Personal Health Record (PHR) and Direct address, Direct is a great way to deliver data to the PHR.  Incidentally, there are free services such as Microsoft HealthVault and many others that issue patient Direct addresses.

Direct addresses are nearly indistinguishable from regular email addresses, but a word of caution: Direct is incompatible with regular email, and has additional requirements beyond traditional S/MIME.  Although it’s not a requirement, you’ll often find the word “direct” somewhere in the domain part of a Direct address, to help distinguish a regular email address from a Direct address.

Now that you know what Direct is, and what Direct Messaging and Direct addresses look like, I’m sure you’ll start noticing Direct popping up in more and more places.  So, be a not-so-early adopter and go get yourself a Direct address!

4 Things Your Patient Portal Should Include

Posted on May 30, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

Karen Gallagher Grant has a great blog post up on the MRA Health Information Services blog that talks about the ideal patient portal. She breaks it down into 4 things that a patient portal should provide:

  1. Information that is meaningful
  2. Easy access for patient review for data integrity
  3. Dashboard information about prescriptions that combine pharmacy information and clinical information
  4. Appointment scheduling

And 5 things she’d ideally like to see in a patient portal:

  1. Details about my next appointment
  2. Wellness tips
  3. Access to home health through telemedicine solutions
  4. Customized decision support via nationwide clinical data repositories
  5. Patient exchange of information

I found these lists really interesting, but I asked myself “Is this what we really want in a patient portal?

I think the number thing people want in a patient portal is access to a provider. Sure, it’s great to be able to access your paper records, your prescription history, your appointment list, and even some health information. Although the health information is never going to be as good as what Dr. Google can provide.

I was surprised that almost nothing (except the Telemedicine solution) talks about the patient portal being used to connect with the doctor. This is the most compelling reason for a patient to use the portal. They want to connect with someone. Notice the emphasis on the one, that means with an actual person. Yes, in many cases this can be the front desk, the biller, or the nurse, but patient portals see the most value when the portal is a way for a patient to connect to a person. Then, the rest of the resources become more valuable and used as well.

The problem is that most of the patient portals out there don’t do a good job connecting people. Although, maybe I’m just biased because of the Physia Connect messaging product we’ve developed and the docBeat messaging company I advise. However, seeing these two products helps me realize how beneficial it can be to make healthcare communication simple. Once we do that, it opens up whole new windows of opportunities.

My #BlueButton Patient Journey: PHRs & the Plight of Patient Surveys

Posted on February 7, 2014 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

Ah, the CAHPS Survey … how I love filling them out with a freshly sharpened #2 pencil. How I love digging through that kitchen junk drawer we all have to find a stamp. How I love placing that return envelope in the metal box at the top of my driveway (after I dust the cobwebs off, of course).

All jokes about the floundering postal system aside, my Blue Button patient journey has made me hyper aware of the potential for non-electronic processes to become digitized. In the case of patient satisfaction surveys, I ask not only, why not? But also, why hasn’t it already been done?

The CAHPS (Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems) survey is produced by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and was designed to provide healthcare facilities with a way to measure and improve the patient experience. As an engaged patient (and a busy, working mom), my experience would be improved if I were offered the convenient alternative of taking CAHPS surveys online.

I realize I’m getting more into user experience than necessarily discussing the Blue Button initiative, but I feel the two are ultimately a means to the same end – more engaged patients, more effective care and better outcomes.

I think it would be great if I could check a box during the set up of my profile in the patient portal that alerts my provider to the fact that I do or don’t want to take surveys online. The paper option will still be preferable to some, but it would be nice to have the choice right off the bat. Perhaps this is already being done and I just haven’t experienced it yet in my neck of the woods. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve taken patient satisfaction surveys online, and/or via your patient portal, and if it was more convenient/easier to fill out.

In other news, I had a great conversation with David Goldsmith at Dossia about the evolution of that personal health record, which is currently being rolled out through employers. It seems like a really intuitive tool whose only hangup is keeping users engaged once they switch jobs and lose that connection to payer data that originally populated their profile.

Beth Friedman, founder of Agency Ten22 (a founding sponsor of HealthcareScene.com’s upcoming Healthcare IT Marketing & PR Conference), was kind enough to comment on one of my previous Blue Button blogs alerting me to AHIMA’s MyPHR.com, which provides information about getting started with personal health records. (I was happy to find that AHIMA has taken the Blue Button pledge, and has a section devoted to it at this site.)

I found the article, “Quick Guide to Creating a PHR” helpful. It was easy to understand and seems to be written for the average healthcare consumer. I’m surprised that it leans so heavily on paper-based processes, but that’s probably a first step that most people would be comfortable with before moving on to digital processes. I was disappointed that it didn’t offer suggestions for Internet-based PHRs. I’d feel more confident using a particular product if it was endorsed by an association like AHIMA. I’m hoping Beth will let me know if that’s something AHIMA plans to do in the future.

Will Healthcare Ever Solve These Issues?

Posted on January 24, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the HealthcareScene.com blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of InfluentialNetworks.com and Physia.com. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

On James Ritchie’s post on EMR and HIPAA extolling the virtues of Patient Portals, Bill made the following comment:

I visited an ENT practice today for the first time. I was referred by my primary care physician. Guess what? NO PATIENT PORTAL! And this is a large multi-location group. Here’s the really strange part…they bought an EHR 10 years ago and are still using paper charts!!! Flabbergasted!

A couple of days ago, I went to their website, downloaded and filled out the forms. (Yes, I typed them). I then called the practice to ask if they wanted me to fax them so they could get my info entered into their system, the girl replied “no, that’s ok, we don’t create your chart until you get here”. That’s how I found out they are still using paper charts. Unreal!

When I arrived for my appointment today, (NOT 30 minutes early) I could tell the girl at the window was ready to jump on me for being “late”, until I handed her my completely filled out forms. She looked at me in utter amazement. She took my drivers license and insurance card (no, they did not have a scanner for either) so I didnt get them back until I was called back and the nurse gave them back to me. So I had to ask the doctor, “why are you not using your EHR”, he replied, “yeah, we need to start using it” He even commented that he couldnt remember any of his patients that actually typed and then printed the PDF forms. Am I the weirdo here?

Earlier, while in the waiting room, I sat and watched patient after patient go up to the window and get the “high tech” clipboard. They then sat down to fill out their forms…all the while stopping from time to time to text or perhaps reply to an email on their smartphones. The irony. I watched sadly as an older woman was trying to get the forms filled out with what appeared to be great difficulty because it was obvious she didn’t have all of the information with her that she needed. But she had a smartphone. More irony.

Just think if my primary care provider and this ENT group were both using EHR and PP. Perhaps I would of had to fill out NOTHING!! All of my info would of been readily available to the ENT doc. I could view the notes from both of the docs..see my reports and tests results and even forward it to another provider of care if necessary. The study is encouraging, but there are going to be so many benefits once PP’s become mainstream.

I responded to Bill with the following comments:

Such a sad story and far too repeated in healthcare today.

I’ve often said if someone could figure out a way for patients to not have to fill out those dang intake forms, they’d have a golden business. Turns out, it’s a really complex problem to solve because of how many parties are involved and the non-standard way they do it.

Yes, we still have a long way to go to solve even some of the most obvious healthcare issues.

My #BlueButton Patient Journey: Where Are the Smiley Faces?

Posted on January 22, 2014 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

Smiley faces and patient payment barriers were on my mind yesterday as I spent a few minutes in the patient portals I use (powered by Cerner, and athenahealth, in case you’re interested). I’ll get to my thoughts on user experience in a sec.

First, an update on the Blue Button Connector, which I may have explained in an earlier post. The Connector is an ONC-powered website that will offer consumers an easy way to find providers, payers and other healthcare organizations that participate in the Blue Button initiative. It will also offer developers a way to access Blue Button + technology, “a blueprint for the structured and secure transmission of personal health data on behalf of an individual consumer. It meets and builds on the view, download and transmit requirements in Meaningful Use Stage 2 for certified EHR technology,” according to the ONC.

Originally slated for debut in mid-January of this year, ONC has let it be known that it will delay the release so that when it does go live, it will work well. I’m sure I don’t have to point out the recent events that likely prompted this decision. I’m all in favor of delay to ensure everything works well. A beta version is expected to launch just before or at HIMSS. I may have to reach out to the folks at ONC to see about getting an invite to participate. Stay tuned.

Now, back to my user experience with one of my patient portals. I recently logged into the athenahealth-powered portal to cancel an upcoming appointment. It seemed easy enough to schedule a new appointment, but there was no button or quick link to cancel. I sent a secure message through the portal to the appointment department noting my need to cancel. Because it was less than 24 hours until said appointment, I also called the office as a point of courtesy to make sure they knew of my request. The receptionist who answered told me that sending a message to cancel an appointment is the best option through the portal, as that prompts staff to get back in touch with patients to see if they need to reschedule. A valid point, I thought. I realized not long after that call that I’ll need to reschedule an appointment with a different provider, as my current one is during HIMSS. Hopefully rescheduling will be just as painless.

My recent encounter with the Cerner-powered portal was almost just as painless, leaving me with three observations to share. The first being that I messaged my provider and was pleased to get a response back first thing the next morning. The second being that I attempted to look into a payment balance through said portal, but was put off by the fact that the portal directed me to a third-party site for which I have to set up another account. I wonder why the payment/billion function isn’t embedded into the portal. I’m sure there are underlying reasons patients aren’t aware of, but it sure would be a nice value-add. Unfortunately, I’m the type of patient who, when I encounter a barrier to payment, will set the bill aside and let it languish far longer than it needs to.

And the third being that I, as someone with no medical training, would far prefer smiley faces to numbers when it comes to lab results. Let me explain. Here is what I’m greeted with when I first log into the portal:

portalstats

These numbers don’t mean much, as I’m not aware of what levels are appropriate for my age, weight, height, etc. I think it would be much easier to understand if a smiley or frowny face were placed next to each number, with a small link to some sort of resource that could help me better understand each figure. I think perhaps we tend to overcomplicate things since we have so much technology at our fingertips. At the end of the day, as a patient, I want fast access to my portal and easy to understand information within it.

What are your thoughts on patient portal user experience? Have you seen any emoticons used in clinical settings? Let me know your thoughts via the comments below.

My #BlueButton Patient Journey – Laying the Groundwork

Posted on January 16, 2014 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

After taking the Blue Button Pledge, my next step is to get proactive with my medical records. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, I currently see four different doctors throughout the year. Three of those offer a patient portal. Two of them are in the same practice, and therefore use the same portal. Confused yet?

I think the key to being an engaged patient is to first make sure I can log in to each of these portals. I create bookmarks for them as well. I also make sure I know how to navigate through them and that all of my information is correct and up to date. I take care of the first two items by either looking back at papers given to me during my last office visit, or calling my PCP’s office to ask for a pin code.

Once I’ve looked through my information in each portal (powered by Cerner and athenahealth, respectively), I decide to go even further by messaging my PCP to let her know how my visit to a specialist went. If I don’t let her know now, I might forget many of the details when I see her again towards the end of the year. While I’m in there, I decide to look at my past bills to see why I’m still getting one for a balance I’m pretty sure I paid at my last office visit.

bluebuttondownload

Once those details are seen to, I decide to check out the portal used by two of my other doctors because I seem to remember seeing a Blue Button icon on one of the screens during my last log in. Sure enough, there is a link to “View, download or transmit health data.” Clicking this link takes me to a screen where I can “Support the Blue Button® initiative by downloading your health data and storing it in your personal records.”

I hit download and save them on my computer, but then I’m left wondering, “Now what?” I suppose uploading them to a thumb drive and taking them to whatever provider I see next might be helpful. But I have the sneaking suspicion they’d still prefer paper. Since my PCP’s portal doesn’t offer a Blue Button link to download my data, I decide to message my PCP again to let her know I’d like to see this offered. I wonder if she’ll appreciate the comment, and if she’s gotten the request from other patients.

I feel like my next step should be uploading my health data into some kind of personal health record, but which one? Where do I even start when it comes to selecting something like that? Honestly, the data entry involved with PHRs is off putting to me, which is probably why I haven’t created one up to this point.

What has worked for you and your family? Providers, are there PHRs you find easier to work with (assuming you interact with them at all?) I’d appreciate any reader suggestions and advice you’d care to give via the comments below.

Giving Thanks for Patient Portals – #HITThanks

Posted on November 27, 2013 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

My cup of healthcare thankfulness was overflowing last week, as back-to-back doctor’s appointments went smoothly and didn’t leave me with any unpleasant and unexpected diagnostic surprises. My thankfulness even extended into the IT realm as I received word from both my daughters’ pediatrician and my primary care doctor that both offices (on separate EMRs) now offer patient portals. Though I might occasionally grouse that patient portals don’t yet lend themselves to truly coordinated care between different types of providers who may use different IT systems, I truly believe they are game changing when it comes to increasing provider efficiency and patient satisfaction.

I was so happy to get this pamphlet in the mail alerting me to patient portal availability.

I was so happy to get this pamphlet in the mail alerting me to patient portal availability.

No longer will I have to wait 10 days for lab test or EKG results. No longer will I have to wait impatiently by the phone for the pediatric advice nurse to call me back regarding treatment for, thankfully, run-of-the-mill illnesses and complaints. Secure messaging will ease my worry when it comes to my kids, and the anxiety I often have waiting for results of any kind.

I can now happily say that the majority of my family’s providers – pediatrician, primary care physician, and surgeon – all offer some type of patient portal, which leaves me even more inclined to evangelize the need for one the next time I’m at my dermatologist.

Though I have perhaps lamented in the past that patient portals don’t do a whole lot of good if one patient has to use several for multiple providers, they certainly are a step in the direction of true interoperability.

On a side note, I’m also thankful that my primary care physician has finally seen fit to offer reliable wifi throughout the office. There is nothing more frustrating than to be kept waiting in the main reception area or exam room with no connection to phone or Internet. I wonder if wifi access has become a point of contention when it comes to patient satisfaction.

I hope that many of us in the industry can point to one or two things we are thankful for due to healthcare IT. What are yours? Share your #HITthanks in the comments below.

Study: Patient Portal Use To Shoot Up 221 Percent

Posted on October 7, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

The US patient portal market should grow at a blazing clip over the next few years, according to a new report by research firm Frost & Sullivan.

The new study, U.S. Patient Portal Market for Hospitals and Physicians: Overview and Outlook, 2012- 2017, concludes that the total US patient portal market for hospitals and physicians generated revenue of just $279.8 million in 2012. By 2017, however, the US patient portal market should reach $898.4 million, representing a 221.1 percent increase in revenue generated.

Growth in portal use is being fueled partly by the easy availability of such technology. About 50 percent of US hospitals and 40 percent of US physicians in ambulatory practice own some type of patient portal technology, researchers say, mostly acquired as a module of their EMR or practice management system. Frost & Sullivan dub this generation of portals ” Patient Portal 1.0.”

The report notes that providers are using the current generation of patient portals for efforts around patient engagement, such as access to medical records, communication with providers and e-visits.

For example, three large health systems recently completed a study in which roughly 4,000 patients were given access not only to their medical records but also their doctors’ notes via a patient portal.  Despite having privacy concerns, 99 percent of patients involved in the study wanted continued access to physician notes by a portal.

But the growth in patient portal use will be driven by other factors as well. Researchers say increased portal deployment will be driven by several factors, including the need to meet Stage 2 Meaningful Use requirements and growing consumer demand for health IT options.

Soon, providers will need more advanced technology to meet the goals they have for patient portals, said Frost & Sullivan Connected Health Principal Analyst Nancy Fabozzi in a company statement.

“As healthcare reform and transformation advances, providers will seek new ways to engage patients and influence behavior beyond the point of care,” Fabozzi said. “These solutions, which can be considered “Patient Portal 2.0,” will have robust functions such as health information exchange across diverse care settings, integration of clinical and financial data, dynamic scheduling, social networking, gaming, avatars for personalized health coaching and e-visits.”

Medical Bills, Patient Portal Insight and HIT Friends in Need

Posted on August 15, 2013 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

HIT Friends Support a Great Cause
Blogging and social networking are of course great drivers of information and thought leadership, and they can also be very effective in spreading the word of friends in need. I found out through these avenues about the healthcare challenges of three-year-old Little James, recently diagnosed with a brain tumor, and the fundraising efforts of Todd Stein at Amendola Communications to alleviate the burden of his mounting medical bills. You can read about his healthcare challenges here. Prayers and donations are immediate needs. I wonder if any organization out there might step up and match donations.

Speaking of Medical Bills
On a lighter note (sort of), I laughed out loud when I saw an explanation of benefits for my recent surgical procedure.

savings

Thankfully, I do not truly owe anywhere near that amount due to insurance coverage. I shudder to think how the uninsured pay for life-saving procedures they can’t afford. Yes, hospitals can work out monthly payment plans for anyone, but if an extra $50 a month means less gas in the tank to drive your kids to school … I now find myself tediously combing over statements from the hospital and explanation of benefit statements from my insurance company to make sure they match up.

More Healthcare Cost Transparency News
A company called Change Healthcare is getting into the cost transparency game, having just secured $15 million in funding to further develop its Transparency Messenger product, which, according to the company, compiles health plan and claims data to devise algorithms that determine cost of service. It then uses health plan holders’ or employees’ demographic information and personal preferences for care to look for savings.

Customer Service in Healthcare
In contrast to the financial distress that comes with unexpected medical procedures, I must share with you a thank you note from my surgical team. While I appreciate the gesture, I’m wondering if they’ve charged me for it!

thankyou

All kidding aside, this gesture highlights the increasing importance providers are placing on customer service. To learn more, check out “Why Customer Service Matters in the Healthcare Industry,” by James Merlino, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic.

Patient Portal
I haven’t yet logged back into my patient portal – thankfully having no need to right now. My last doctor’s visit prompted me to ask if I could access my latest pathology report via the portal. My doctor sidestepped the question and promptly presented me with a paper copy, which will likely be a good thing, as he and my dermatologist don’t seem set up to share patient information electronically. That seems to be a provider choice, and not necessarily due to poor portal design.

Speaking of patient portals, I highly recommend you take a look at Dr. Michael Koriwchak recent blog over at WiredEMRDoctor.com. “My First Year with a Patient Portal” gives us patients a better idea of what works and what doesn’t from the practice perspective.

My First Patient Portal: A Review

Posted on August 2, 2013 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

It was with both excitement and a slight sense of dread that I read through paperwork related to using my doctor’s patient portal. I was excited because I would finally experience what so many in the industry have been discussing, lamenting, fearing, awaiting … take your pick. The dread wasn’t too far behind as I realized I would have to be responsible for yet another set of login information, and a potentially burdensome amount of data entry. (I volunteered a few years ago to beta test a personal health record for parents, but that did not last long as the data entry became too time consuming.)

Excitement won out, of course, because I am intrigued by the connection between portals and engagement. Will logging into the portal make me that much more likely to continue to use it and correspond with my doctor? I also wonder if, after the first initial login and hopefully minimal data entry, using the portal will in fact make my healthcare more convenient than burdensome. Will phone calls be replaced with secure emails? I can only hope.

Flipping through the patient portal pamphlet from my doctor’s office titled “Your Health Care at Your Fingertips,” I noted several features are highlighted:

  • fast and secure access to your health information
  • communicate with your doctor by sending and receiving secure messages
  • request prescriptions and refills
  • update demographic information
  • browse health facts and information
  • view and request appointments
  • view billing statements and balance

Coming soon will be the ability to retrieve test results and view personal health information, which seems a little vague to me as I would assume anything about me in the portal is PHI.

Logging in for the first time was easy. I noticed the “Powered by athenahealth” logo at the bottom, and was immediately presented with an option to receive paperless statements via the portal. The dashboard presented me with my upcoming appointments, and quick links related to updating my profile, changing contact information and signing up for secure text messaging. I went ahead and signed up for text messaging as the primary way in which I receive reminders. For me, it is such a convenient way to get and store quick bits of information.

Digging around further, I realize how valuable the Billing section will be, especially now that I am incurring expenses that will go towards my deductible. It will be nice to have these archived for me in the portal, rather than a mound of paper receipts I continually shuffle through.

I was pleased to see that this particular athenahealth portal supports the Blue Button initiative:

portalbb

And also supports transmitting my health data to Microsoft Health Vault, which I might try at a later date:

portalMHV

The only data entry I had to do was update my emergency contact information.

Thus far, I’ll give the athenahealth patient portal a positive review. I’ll let you know how my experience with it continues over the next few weeks. I predict that it might peter out because my visits to this particular doctor will, hopefully, end. If only my other doctors also offered a patient portal. But then, perhaps that is where technology like HealthVault comes in handy.

What has your experience with patient portals been like? How about Microsoft HealthVault? Is it worth populating if, like me, you see several doctors that do and don’t offer portals? I’d appreciate any comments you’d like to leave below.