By Diete Dobroski
I recently visited my primary care provider who asked for a copy of some lab work I’d had done at another facility. It was a simple request so I left the doctor’s office and phoned the other clinic straight away. The first call had me on hold so long that I had to hang up, and when I finally got through several hours later, I was told my physician was out and I needed to call back…Then, the following day, during my second round of being on hold, I got disconnected. 
Many people could share similar stories of attempts at communicating with their medical providers and it gets quite frustrating, especially in urgent situations. But what if we had more control?  What if there was no need to get caught in the cycle of phone calls, messages, faxes or snail mail? 
Most of us access our bank accounts online, pay bills online and communicate electronically, but how many of us realize that we also have the option of accessing our medical information online? 
Patient portals have been around since the 1990’s, but they are fast becoming more common with the increased use of electronic health record (EHR) technology in provider practices. A patient portal allows us to securely access our personal health information from anywhere at any time via a confidential website using our own personal logins and passwords.  
Although the features of these portals may vary, provider practices participating in Medicare and Medicaid EHR incentive programs in 2014 will be required to provide us with the ability to view our health information, print portions of our records and even securely exchange messages with our health care providers.
The availability of this technology gives us, as patients, more control in managing our health information and allows us to be more actively involved in our health and wellness. Had my health care provider granted me access to a patient portal, my primary care physician would have had the requested results within minutes of the request, and I wouldn’t have been caught in the frustrating cycle of phone calls, disconnects and time wasted on hold.
The next time you visit your health care professional, ask if he or she offers a patient portal or has plans to implement one in the near future. This convenience may save you valuable time or even an unnecessary visit to your doctor. So let’s get empowered and get involved - after all, it’s our health. 
For more information on patient portals, visit the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) website at