What Are Patient Portals? Patient Portals: An Entrance to Electronic Health Records (EHR)

Catherine Fant, PHD, RN

 By Dr. Catherine Fant, RN, Graduate Faculty Member

A patient portal is a means for increasing patient engagement in one’s care. Health.it.gov notes that “[It] is a secure online website that gives patients convenient 24-hour access to personal health information from anywhere with an Internet connection. 

Using a secure username and password, patients can view health information such as: lab values, medications, allergies, appointments educational materials, messaging from providers, and visit summaries.” 

Patient portals can be stand alone or tethered to EHRs. However, stand-alone portals have less functionality and are less customizable than those connected to an EHR.(Terry, 2015).  

One benefit of a patient portal is that it offers an environment in which providers and patients are able to exchange information that can impact patient care management. With the greater emphasis on patient-centered care, providers are being encouraged to embrace this modality for fostering increased patient engagement. Patient portals are the primary avenue for providers to meet stage 2 meaningful use. As value-based reimbursement becomes more prevalent, portals can be a tool for substantiating the value of the care (Terry, 2015).

Patient/Provider Acceptance 

Patient portals have been in existence for several years but acceptance and use by providers and patients has not grown to its full potential. Providers express concern related to what kinds of information should be available to patients. For example, should all lab values be posted or only some?

Others have found that texting has become the easier form of communication by patients. However, text messages are not secure. Consequently, texts can be used for reminders to make an appointment, but not any information that should be kept private. 

There are many issues that involve patient acceptance and use of the portals. These can range from multiple providers having portals that require separate sign-ons and passwords to access the portal to those who are computer illiterate.

Learn More 

While there remain a few hurdles in patient/provider acceptance portals allow patients to become more active in their care, and offer a collaborative process with their providers. To learn about providers who are using portals to engage patients and improve outcomes, you can find stories at  https://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/faqs/what-patient-portal.

Nursing's Influence on Electronic Health Records

A conversation with Dr. Catherine Fant, RN, Graduate Faculty Member, Purdue Global School of Nursing

Q. Why should nurses have a voice in selecting an Electronic Health Record (EHR) system?

A. Nurses are the largest professional group to use electronic documentation. As a consequence, they need to be very involved in the process of choosing an EHR for an organization. This is critical because an EHR that fully supports nurses can enhance nurses' ability to make critical decisions regarding patient care. If nurses do not play an active role, then the EHR that is chosen may not meet their needs, which can in turn compromise patient care.

Q. How does an EHR support nursing care?

A. EHRs are producing tremendous amounts of data. This data can be organized, interpreted, and applied to guide the nursing process. The clinical decision support systems that collect and process data and information enable nurses to make the critical decisions regarding the health of their patients. Utilization of these systems based on best practices can help nurses improve care and reduce errors.

Q. What role should nurses have in EHR implementation?

A. Once an EHR is chosen, nurses should continue to be on the teams that drive the project management process to full EHR implementation. Nurses can help to make sure EHR systems are fully functional and meet end-user requirements. Some nurses fulfill an informatics role, which involves the more technical aspects of implementation. However, staff nurses often are tasked to assume the role of "super-users" and assist in the training of other personnel. 

Regardless of the role nurses may fulfill in the organization, it is essential that they assume some role in how EHRs are chosen, implemented, and upgraded, even if it is just making recommendations for aspects of the EHR that are not effectively helping them perform the duties of a nurse.


https://www.healthit.gov/providers-professionals/faqs/what-patient-portal updated Nov 2, 2015 accessed May 24 2016

Terry, K. (2015, April). Patient portals: Essential, but underused by physicians. Medical Economics.http://medicaleconomics.modernmedicine.com/medical-economics/news/patient-portals-essential-underused-physicians?page=full. Accessed 24 May

Dr. Fant is a faculty member at Purdue Global. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Purdue Global.