What to Know About Patient Portals

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 13, 2022
3 min read

A patient portal is an internet-based platform that lets you view medical records and connect with your health care professional.

When you use the portal, it means you don’t have to call the office to get or request information. This can be a valuable time saver.

These free health information hubs have become popular in recent years as more hospitals and clinics offer them to patients.

A patient portal is a secure website set up by a health care system, hospital, or clinic. The tools (or features) vary, depending on the portal. Patient portals can help you access medical records, set up appointments, communicate with your health care professional, and pay medical bills.

Some portals are created exclusively for a hospital or clinic, but there are companies that offer solutions that multiple health care systems can use.

Portals are available through a traditional internet browser. Some may also be offered via an app on your smartphone.

These online platforms were helpful during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, many practices used them to schedule virtual visits, and many people relied on them to get lab results to return to work and school. As a result, more people have embraced them.

There are still barriers to increasing usage. Not having access to the internet – or having limited access – can be a challenge. Also, not all people are comfortable having their medical records online, or they may not like communicating with their health care professional electronically.

Most patient portals let you:

  • Read notes from all your visits
  • View medication summaries
  • Explore your health history information, including alerts about allergies and family history
  • View vaccine records
  • See lab results

Some patient portals also let you:

  • Send a message to your doctor or other health care professional
  • Request prescription refills
  • Schedule appointments
  • Update contact information
  • Make payments
  • Download and complete forms
  • View educational materials
  • Review benefits and coverage

The features in a patient portal may help you:

Save time. Patient portals let you get information or complete tasks that you would otherwise need office staff to do. For example, if you need to complete any pre-visit paperwork, you may be able to complete it in the patient portal and spend less time in the waiting room on the day of your appointment. Not having to spend time making a call (or waiting for a call back) can be helpful.

Communicate quickly. Being able to access a patient portal at any time lets you communicate with your care team without having to make a separate appointment. This can be very helpful when you have a quick, non-urgent need.

Speed up tasks. The portal may let you make a payment or request a refill, or get medical records in a pinch.

To keep information as secure as possible, you must create a username and password. Then you’ll log in to use the portal.

Because a patient portal exists on a hospital or clinic website, you’ll need to be online to access the portal. Most hospitals and clinics offer a link to their patient portals from their website homepage.

Most patient portals tend to be user-friendly, so there’s not much to learn. You'll need to get used to the interface and see what tools are available. If you need help, look for a support button to contact a technical team. You can also contact the hospital or clinic for assistance.

You don’t have to be an internet or app whiz to use a patient portal. Doing so can make your life easier, save time, and help you stay in control of your health.