Electronic health records Electronic health records with portal capabilities can empower patients, support care between visits, and improve health outcomes. If you’re looking for best practices for using patient portals in ambulatory care settings, the advice in a healthIT.gov white paper from the good old days—2012—still applies in 2016.
As “Using Patient Portals in Ambulatory Care Settings” pointed out four years ago, effective patient portals boost patient-provider communication and enable patients to check test results, refill prescriptions, review their medical record, and view education materials. In addition, patient portals can streamline registration, allow patients to quickly schedule appointments, and provide appointment reminders. Savvy practices are also using them to generate electronic statements and facilitate online payments.
A robust patient portal enables practices to meet meaningful use requirements. Indeed, the higher patient engagement thresholds in Stages 2 and 3 has significantly raised the importance of the patient portal.
Tips for launching a portal

  • Phase in the portal by testing it with a few physicians or clinical sites first. Start by activating a few features and roll out new features over time.
  • Let people know it’s up and running. Add the news to the office’s on-hold telephone message, distribute letters to patients that tell them how to access it, and have office staff as well as practitioners wear “Ask me about the portal” buttons.
  • Make it everyone’s job to encourage using the portal, from front-desk staff to physicians. Develop talking points for staff that encourage patients to sign up and use the portal.
  • If you’re encouraging patients to use the portal, make sure it will work as advertised. Develop policies for message response times and systems for routing and responding to messages.
  • Keep the registration process simple. Try bulk enrollment, or have patients register at kiosks in the clinic. Designate staff to assist patients and troubleshoot problems.
  • Educate patients about the kinds of communication that are appropriate via the portal, how and when providers will use messaging, and when to check the portal for lab results.

What’s changed since 2012? Portals are more widespread as a component of medical practices of all sizes, and patients are more accustomed to using them to communicate with their providers. This, in turn, has increased patients’ expectations for what a portal can (or should) allow them to do. The basics in this white paper are sound fundamentals to build on—and not just for ambulatory care practices.

Last Updated on May 9, 2016