Health information, at your fingertips

Summer

Many people have questions about patient portals, what they are, and how they can use them to access their health information. It’s helpful to compare patient portals to familiar online banking sites, because they are so similar to medical portals and so many people use them.

Neither online banking nor patient portals are new. Online banking revolutionized personal finance in the early 2000s. Locally, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center’s portals were launched in 2014. Millions of people use online banking to manage their finances. Yet, only recently have growing numbers of patients discovered the benefits of using the patient portal to keep their medical information accessible and organized.

The best thing about managing financial and medical information online is how accessible it is. Bank customers and patients can securely review their information online using a computer, smartphone, or tablet from anywhere in the world.

Just as bank customers can check their balances, transfer funds, and send and receive messages, patients can message their providers’ offices, see the results of recent tests and studies, and look up the medications they’ve been prescribed, for instance. In addition, there’s no need to hang on to cumbersome paper records. All of the information is available whenever patients need it.

Both financial information and health information are sensitive and private. So it’s important that information be accessible to you and only you. As a result, both online banking and medical portal sites have a high standard of security. During the enrollment process, patients submit personal information that is cross-referenced against information in their medical records. This step protects unauthorized access of other people’s records, and is a key feature in a larger list of security precautions taken in the portal, including encryption of data and defense against hacking.

By participating in the portal, patients gain a better understanding of their health overall, but especially about the current, active issues: what’s going on now, how it’s treated, and what medications are needed. Just as increased accessibility has made it easier for customers to keep track of their money, portal users are more engaged in their care have the best prospects for recovery and health maintenance.

Finally, just because you have electronic access doesn’t mean you have to give up the old fashioned way. You can do both. You can still call your bank, and you can still call your physician’s office and request results and paper records, if you like.

Patient who are interested in learning more about the web portals to manage their health care can find links, including information about how to register, on their hospital or physician home page.

Melissa Frechette is a systems analyst in the Southwestern Vermont Health Care Information Systems Department. "Health Matters" is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.