ROCKINGHAM — FirstHealth of the Carolinas is set to begin offering online access to personal health records to its patients Tuesday, the health care group said.
Hospitals, physician practices and health care providers throughout the United States are rolling out patient portals. Electronic access to patient health information is part of a national program supported by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid to encourage communication between patients and their health care providers while ensuring that medical decisions are based on a patient’s current and complete medical history.
“It’s been demonstrated that patients who are engaged in their self-care and are knowledgeable about their diseases or potential for disease experience an improved quality of life,” Cindy McNeill-McDonald, FirstHealth’s vice president for quality, said in a news release.
CMS grants an incentive payment to eligible hospitals and health care professionals who can demonstrate they have engaged in efforts to adopt, implement or upgrade electronic health record technology
This concept of “meaningful use” is part of the 2009 HITECH Act, whose name is an acronym for Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health.
“A patient portal helps patients keep up with their health care needs, medications, allergies, lab results and other health care information on a secure site,” McNeill-McDonald said. “It allows them to keep their medical information in one place and up to date while willingly and correctly sharing their data with other providers. All of this together improves the quality of care for patients.”
Dr. Suzanne Wilson, FirstHealth’s chief medical information officer, agrees.
“The more patients know about what’s going on with their health, the better,” she said.
Anyone who has been a patient in one of the four FirstHealth of the Carolinas hospitals or who has had a hospital-based procedure such as lab work or a mammogram will be able to access the FirstHealth Patient Portal.
All that is necessary is an email address, a computer and the availability of an Internet browser such as Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Firefox or Safari.
Enrollment is quick and easy with the following steps:
• FirstHealth patients over age 18 will be asked for their email address during pre-registration and/or registration for a FirstHealth-related hospital admission, physician visit or medical procedure.
• Thirty-six hours afterward, the patient will get an invitation to register for the Patient Portal at myhealthcareportal.org. This invitation will expire after 90 days.
• To sign up, the patient must click on the link in the email. A resulting sign-up page will have step-by-step instructions on how to create a unique username and password that should be shared only as the patient chooses – usually only for managing the care of a spouse, child or aging parent.
Once enrolled as a patient portal user, patients will be able to access their FirstHealth personal health record at their convenience. Although area non-FirstHealth providers have also begun to offer their own patient portal access, information from their practices will not be available through the FirstHealth Patient Portal.
According to Dr. Wilson, the information available in an electronic medical record has historically been closely controlled by physicians, but that practice has changed as patients have become more involved with their health care and access to that information has become more readily attainable electronically.
“There’s a cultural change about opening records that can be unsettling to some providers as can the issue of providing this information without the physician talking about it with the patient first,” Wilson said. “The goal is always to discuss an abnormal result before it can be viewed in the patient portal. At the same time, I think patients are becoming much more educated about what’s happening in health care.
“During this process, we have to make sure our providers are actively communicating with their patients in a timely manner. Providers must understand their patients have these records and that they have a plan of action to discuss. There are learning opportunities for everyone involved, for providers and patients. We just have to be proactive and help our community grow on a health care basis and make sure we do it well.”
Anyone with questions about setting up a username and password or accessing their personal health record through the FirstHealth Patient Portal can contact support services at 866-735-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org.