My First Patient Portal: A Review

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:


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


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.

About the author

Jennifer Dennard

Jennifer Dennard

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.


  • A great thing about patient-doctor-provider portals (beyond the #1 geat BlueButton+ thing, which is patients being able to access/download/forward their own medical records) – wait ’til you experience it – is when a patient portal delivers your blood test results to you within minutes.

    This gives you a chance to ask questions when you see the doctor/speak to the doctor/otherwise communicate with the doctor. Contrast that with a typical situation in which blood test results are mailed to the patient’s home days later, sometimes with comment from the doctor, but with little opportunity for 2-way conversation.

    Portals can also offer links explaining each test and its results, which is very helpful to patients. I look forward to the day when all portals also include imaging results (i.e., the actual images, not just the written summary reports), and when patients can routinely check their records and flag any errors for timely correction.

  • My PCP’s foray into patient portals showed how counterproductive the vendors’ proprietary grip is. The PCP uses e-Clinicalworks, because they are affiliated with a hospital that uses it. Adopting the same system does not mean easy data exchange with the hospital. Visiting my portal, I was disappointed at how little was there: labs and medications, but nothing about diagnoses or other background. Then the doctor explained to me that every field he wants to add to the portal requires paying extra money. I did not ask whether he had to pay the vendor or a consultant. Current programming practices render this piecemeal approach totally unnecessary, of course.

  • To Andrew Oram – I absolutely agree. I am affiliated with a hospital in Bay Area and they sponsored ECW to the ambulatory community. We had been promised labs integration for years, nothing materialized until we started using SureScripts and Informedika. SureScrips connected e-prescribing and Informedika instantly provided bi-directional ordering to ALL labs, radiology, nursing homes and DMEs for FREE, never paid a dime. You could be affiliated with the greatest hospital in the world; unfortunately hospitats complicate technology sometimes to the point where many independents are ready to hang it up. I am not technology savvy bu a long run. But I until I decided to start three easiest technology solutions (No, ECW was not one of them), I felt scared as well. Now I remain independent thanks in part to a technology: ZocDoc, SureScripts and Inforemdika really made a difference in my practice.

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