One of the hot topics in healthcare that has been consistently developing and growing over the past few years is the patient portal. Since many different EMRs and portal platforms are used across hospitals and physician offices, each facility is left to develop policies and procedures for what will be released through the portals and how they will be used. There are no specific standards for patient portals, aside from those needed to meet Meaningful Use requirements, which results in different experiences and functionality for end users.
HIM involvement with patient portal implementations has been a little spotty over the years from what I gather from my peers. I heard someone say we “missed the boat” on patient portals. I don’t necessarily agree but I do see inconsistencies in the level of HIM involvement. When it comes to developing policies governing the content that will be released through the portal, HIM professionals are the experts on this initiative. HIM professionals have always been the stewards of the medical record and keeping release of information processes secure and appropriate. There has been a focus on encouraging patients to keep a personal health record long before EMRs and patient portals came to exist. So how could some HIM professionals get left out of the patient portal process?
My first assumption is that patient portals came to exist mostly, although not solely, as a result of Meaningful Use initiatives. If you have had similar experiences to mine, you have witnessed Meaningful Use initiatives typically being handled by IT professionals. As a result, patient portals have fallen under that umbrella from a technology standpoint but I see great opportunities for HIM professionals to be involved to optimize the content shared for the end users. Since the main intent of patient portals is to encourage patients to be engaged in their own care, these portal initiatives have much more benefit beyond attesting to Meaningful Use and should be incorporated into organizational strategic plans for patient engagement.
There has been a lot of discussion around the struggle of increasing patient portal participation. A common factor in patient portal adoption is the lack of patient competencies in using the technology involved. Some patient populations do not frequently use computers, email, or mobile applications which are all a part of the patient portal functionality. To address this at my facility, we created a position within the HIM department to coordinate all patient portal functions including enhancing the user experience by creating frequently asked questions and answers, troubleshooting issues that patients may have when attempting to login, and resetting portal passwords as needed among many other initiatives. Policies were developed to address who can have access to the portal information, how the patients confirm their identity to log in, what is released, and the duration of the availability of the information. We have an interdisciplinary team that contributes to the patient portal process but having the point person reside in the HIM department makes the most sense for governing the entire concept.
One thing to remember is that patient portals do not eliminate the need for traditional release of information processes because we release information to many different requestors for different purposes. The portal does not include every patient document due to the sensitive nature of some results therefore requests for entire charts and abstracts are still necessary in some cases. Patients should participate in the portal for the personal benefit of being proactive in their own healthcare but they should not expect it to replace release of information. I encourage HIM professionals to be involved in the patient portal process in an administrative capacity. The strides made with patient portal optimization are key in optimizing the transition to health information exchange (HIE) concepts which also require heavy HIM involvement.
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