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Your doctor's patient portal

Using electronic health records

It's likely your doctor has traded in a clipboard for a laptop. It’s also possible your doctor’s office has asked you to sign up for a patient portal, perhaps to pay your bills or make appointments online.

Patient portals are ultimately a way to allow patients to interact and communicate with their health care providers online. While some health care providers have had this type of service for years, patient portals started becoming more common in 2013, when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services began offering financial incentives to doctors (and other health care providers) who make electronic health records available online.

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If your doctor’s office has a patient portal, here are a few reasons why you should give it a try:

  • Be more informed. Having access to your health data whenever you want can help you make sure you’re getting the right care at the right time. Particularly if you have a chronic disease, such as diabetes, asthma or heart disease, it may be easier when doctors and patients have access to the same information. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that people with diabetes seen by doctors who used electronic health records (as opposed to paper records) were 35 percent more likely to get all the recommended screening measures, such as eye exams and blood sugar tests. What’s more, they were 15 percent more likely to have favorable outcomes on those measures.
  • Convenience. A patient portal can provide you with the information you need when it’s convenient for you. For example, you may be able to look up your lab results or email your doctor with a question. Patient portals allow you to stay in touch more frequently and with greater ease.
  • Accuracy. Studies show patients remember less than half of what they’re told in the office or on the phone. Electronic health records document your office visits, diagnoses and more, so everyone is on the same page.
  • Faster feedback. Government guidelines require lab results to be posted on the patient portal within 96 hours of the doctor’s office receiving them. This means no more waiting for a phone call or a letter.
  • Enhances trust. Having open records and doctors’ notes can enhance trust between patients and doctors. While it may seem impersonal, online communication can actually improve your relationship with your doctor.

Source: ConsumerReports.org External Site

Five questions to ask during your next doctor visit

On average, doctors spend about 15 to 20 minutes with each patient they see for routine exams. This includes time spent reviewing charts and records outside the exam room.

The Iowa Healthcare Collaborative is working to improve care through a campaign External Site called Choosing Wisely®. Choosing Wisely recommends five general questions to ask your health care provider before you get any test, treatment or procedure:

  1. Do I really need this test or procedure?
  2. What are the risks? Will there be side effects? What are the chances of getting results that aren’t accurate? Could that lead to more testing or another procedure?
  3. Are there simpler, safer options?
  4. What happens if I don’t do anything?
  5. How much will it cost? Are there less expensive tests, treatments or procedures that my insurance may cover?

Choosing Wisely provides lists of specific things physicians and patients should question related to more than 60 medical specialties.

Find more information at Consumerhealthchoices.org/Iowa External Site.

Choosing Wisely® is an initiative of the ABIM Foundation.

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