The patient portal is one of the cornerstones of 21st-century doctor-patient communication. Plus, with meaningful use requiring health care providers to give patients electronic access to their protected health information, a Web portal makes a lot more sense than a stack of rewritable CDs on the receptionist’s desk.
However, as with most health care technology, the adoption rate for the patient portal, a type of personal health record (PHR) system, remains low. Though the benefits of PHR systems are many, particularly for those with chronic conditions, concerns about security, usability and access surround the patient portal; and physicians and patients are equally hesitant to use them.
At my latest doctor’s visit, I saw posters all over the office encouraging patients to “ask about our patient portal.” Naturally, this piqued my interest, and I signed up to use it. It didn’t go so well.
My introduction to the patient portal began with two sheets of paper, one of which listed my user name and password. Good thing I didn’t lose the sheet of paper in the parking lot. Also, considering that I had just supplied the receptionist with my email address, giving me instructions on paper seemed particularly unnecessary, not to mention insecure.
When I first typed the URL into my browser, I couldn’t access the site. The server was taking too long to respond, Firefox told me. I also tried Internet Explorer, also to no avail.
It certainly wasn’t my home’s 54 Mbps wireless Internet connection, which was working fine. A colleague suggested that the site might be popular, but the URL for the patient portal contained an identifier unique to my physician’s practice. After refreshing the page about 14 times, I simply gave up.
Given that SearchHealthIT.com has had its share of outages lately, it would be hypocritical of me to dismiss the patient portal simply because the login screen wouldn’t load, so I will give it another shot. I have to wonder, though, if other users — the new parents in the waiting room, perhaps, or frankly, anyone who hasn’t had a personal computer for his or her entire adult life — will be so forgiving.