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Current Health Reports

Using Patient Portals

Image for online medical consultingA growing number of patients are turning to the Web to access healthcare information. In response to this demand, more and more physicians and hospitals are using patient portals as gateways for patients to find information.

Patients can also communicate with their physicians and access services using patient portals. Here is some information to help you understand how.

What Are Patient Portals?    TOP

A patient portal is a website you can use to securely interact with your doctor's office to perform some of the routine, health-related tasks that you would normally conduct at the office or by phone.

When Do You Use Patient Portals?    TOP

Most patient portals allow you to conduct the following tasks:

  • Update your doctor about your condition or medications
  • Clarify advice given to you during an office visit
  • Ask general health questions that do not require a routine examination
  • Request appointments, prescriptions, and referrals
  • Obtain reliable health and disease information
  • View and pay bills

If you choose to communicate with your doctor using a patient portal, you should keep your messages to your doctor clear and concise. Take the time to organize your thoughts. Remember that the message you send will become part of your medical record.

When Not to Use Patient Portals    TOP

If you have a new medical problem that needs to be diagnosed, you can use the patient portal to make an appointment for an office visit. That way, your doctor can conduct a physical exam and ask additional questions.

You should also never use a patient portal if you have a medical emergency and need a quick answer. Difficulty breathing, bleeding, or severe abdominal pain all require immediate, personal medical attention.

Benefits    TOP

Well-educated, web-savvy people seem to be the most comfortable with patient portals. But, they are not the only ones. Communicating with a doctor's office online may solve transportation problems for older adults or people who cannot drive.

An increasing number of physicians and hospitals are using patient portals to communicate. If you'd like added healthcare convenience, then a practice that has a patient portal may be right for you.


American Medical Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


The College of Family Physicians of Canada


Adler KG. Web portals in primary care: an evaluation of patient readiness and willingness to pay for online services. J Med Internet Res. 2006 Oct 26;8(4):e26.
The use of electronic mail. American Medical Association website. Available at:
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Published June 2003. Accessed October 7, 2014.
Online patient-provider communication tools: an overview. California HealthCare Foundation website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Published November 2003. Accessed September 17, 2012.
Umefjord G, Sandström H, Malker H, Petersson G. Medical text-based consultations on the Internet: a 4-year study. Int J Med Inform. 2008 Feb;77(2):114-21. Epub 2007 Feb 20.
Last reviewed September 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 10/7/2014
This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition. To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at healthlibrarysupport@ebscohost.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.

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