News Column

Region's hospitals stepping up ways for patients to digitally access records

February 19, 2014

By Liz Freeman, Naples Daily News, Fla.

Feb. 19--NAPLES -- The aggravation of leaving messages and missing return calls from doctors' offices or hospitals could some day become part of the past.

The availability of computer-based access to laboratory results, medication refills and other records -- called a patient portal -- is expected to be the dominant way patients and medical providers interact in the next few years, information technology experts say.

Hospitals in Southwest Florida have had patient portals available for several years, but now are preparing for the next big step. That is allowing patients to download their medical records to share with doctors or hospitals elsewhere.

Nationwide, about 25 percent of hospitals and doctors have patient portals, according to the American Health Information Management Association in Chicago. That's based on an analysis by Intuit Health, a California-based company that provides patient portals to more than four million patients and 49,000 doctors nationwide.

"But it could get to 80 percent over the next few years," said Kathy Downing, director of practice excellence with the association.

The mechanics of using a patient portal are similar to someone setting up online access to their bank accounts or credit cards. The medical provider gives the patient a registration code, then the patient logs on and sets up a secured password.

Earlier this month, the Lee Memorial Health System in Lee County began offering patients access to their patient portal through iPhones or Androids.

MyChart was first available to patients using laptops and desktop computers 18 months ago, said Dr. Leah Lynch, an internist with Lee Memorial. The program is offered by Epic Systems, an electronic medical records giant based in Verona, Wis.

"It is fairly simplified," she said about the medical records patients can access.

They can get laboratory test results, request medication refills, and direct message their doctor with questions.

About 41,790 patients have active MyChart accounts, Lynch said.

She doesn't have demographic information about the users but Lynch said it isn't dominated by younger patients.

"I have been pleasantly surprised how computer savvy our older users are," she said.

Patients can now call up the medical records department at the hospital to get their medical records sent to doctors and hospitals out of the area. The next step is enabling patients to access their medical records by MyChart, she said.

"We are not quite there yet," she said. "It is something we are working on."

The NCH Healthcare System in Collier County launched its patient portal in 2011 and 3,000 patients registered soon afterward, but a more recent count isn't readily available, said Jeff Dindak, director of information technology at NCH.

Six months ago, NCH launched a health information exchange, called Sunshine Connect, between doctors' offices. Beyond the 75 physicians in NCH's employment, about 10 local doctors' offices have signed on, he said.

"We have an initiative to increase that," he said.

In the next few months, NCH is upgrading the patient portal so users can download and send their medical records to other doctors and hospitals, which Dindak knows will be a big plus for patients.

"It's a time-waster," he said, referring to having to pick up copies of records now. "It's really frustrating on the patient side."

Another initiative would enable patients to log on to pay their bills and get secured direct messaging to providers. The intent is eliminating paper records and communications with patients.

So far, doctors haven't objected to patients being able to get lab results through the portal, and doctors aren't concerned that patients will forego follow-up appointments if they know their test results are good news, said Lynch of Lee Memorial.

"As a physician myself, I have not noticed it," she said of appointment cancellations.

Getting a direct message from a patient with a question and having the time to respond is something she said likes, noting: "I can write something more clearly."

She expects the patient portal and direct messaging to providers will be the dominant way to communicate in the future.

"I think it's going to be an expectation in the very near future," she said.

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Coming Up

Watch Sunday's edition of "Naples Daily NewsMakers with Jeff Lytle" at 10 a.m. on ABC7 for an interview with Lee Memorial Health System CEO Jim Nathan. The video will be available at on Monday.


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Source: Naples Daily News (FL)

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