Extending and Enhancing Patient Care Beyond the Office with Patient Portals

By Dan Lodder, M.B.A


We live in an age when anytime, anywhere access to information has become the norm. From banking to personal contacts, more people are using their computers, phones and tablets to access critical information whenever and however they want. Even members of the older generation, who have historically been late adopters of technology compared to their younger counterparts, have become more tech savvy. As evidence, in 2014 the Pew Research Center released data indicating that nearly 60 percent of America’s seniors go online. That’s up from just 14 percent in 2000, and likely even higher as we mover closer to 2016.

This willingness of people of all ages to use technology to conveniently self manage their personal information has also made its way into healthcare. Just a few months ago, My Care PlusSM, a secure online patient portal from McKesson Specialty Health, reached a new level of patient participation with more than 250,000 cancer patients across the nation now using the portal to take a more active role in their healthcare (Figure 1). Just as impressive, 40 percent of traffic to the site is through mobile devices, a further indication that patients are managing their information anytime and anywhere.

Figure 1. Growth of patient use over the last five years for McKesson’s My Care PlusSM

Source: McKesson Specialty Health

Extending and Enhancing Patient Care Beyond the Office with Patient Portals (continued)

This is good news for oncology practices that are continually striving to extend and enhance care beyond the walls of their offices. Patients diagnosed with chronic diseases, such as cancer, require a high level of care that includes many facets. From frequent appointments and lab tests to multiple medications that require a thorough understanding of possible side effects and their management, tracking the vast amounts of information for cancer care can be complex and overwhelming.

More practices today employ support nurses who reach out to patients between appointments to check on their status, remind them to take their medications, and proactively support patients in an effort to improve outcomes and reduce the risk for negative events such as unplanned hospitalizations, ultimately reducing the overall cost of care. Patient portals are another effective tool for educating and engaging patients, as well as strengthening their relationships with patients. These online applications enable providers to share, track, and store patient information and give patients another way to interact and communicate with their healthcare providers. 

It’s no secret that patients who are engaged in their healthcare have better outcomes and incur lower costs. Patients who are engaged ask good questions, understand their disease, and are more likely to follow treatment recommendations and guidelines given to them by their physicians, nurses, nutritionists, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers.

Oncology-specific portals provide another way to engage patients by providing convenient 24-hour access to personal health information for the patient. Typically, portals enable patients to view details about their specific type of cancer and stage of the disease, allergy information, and a list of medications prescribed by the oncologist as well as other medications a patient is taking.

For many cancer patients, one of the most important aspects of their care is tracking lab results such as CBCs, chemistries, and tumor markers. Patients who use oncology specific portals can quickly log-in to the portal to see the results without having to wait for a phone call or letter from the practice or lab.  My Care Plus even sends patients an email notifying them that lab results have been posted and allows them to read any comments their physician has entered about the results. This streamlined delivery of results enables patients to quickly and easily see what implications the lab results may have on their treatment.

In addition to tracking lab results, many portals also link patients to reputable educational cancer resources such as informative guides and supportive care articles. More sophisticated portals even leverage a patient’s clinical information to target specific information that is relevant to them. For example, My Care Plus provides patients with information about their specific condition and care that includes nutritional recommendations as well as potential side effects and how best to manage them. Distilling information according to the patient’s data eliminates patients being presented with a lot of information that does not apply to them.

Extending and Enhancing Patient Care Beyond the Office with Patient Portals (continued)

Figure 2: My Care Plus Patient Portal

Source: https://www.mycareplusonline.com


We’ve heard many stories from patients who use portals, and one of the most often cited benefits is the ability to communicate with the staff at the practice at any time. For some patients, it’s not always easy to ask the doctor or nurse questions regarding their care, or they forget what they want to ask when they get to their appointments. The patient portal gives patients a means to ask questions about their specific case, describe symptoms they are having, or ask about information they’ve seen or heard in the media without inhibition and when it’s convenient and top of mind. 

Not only have we seen how effective these portals are at enhancing patient care, but we’ve seen many examples of how they also improve efficiency at the practices that use them. Practice staff can easily send reminders about upcoming appointments, notify patients of important events, such as screenings, and promote wellness programs. Plus, the electronic notification of lab results and secure messaging between the care team and patients save valuable nursing time that can be spent face-to-face with the patients when they are in the office.

The increased communication between practices and patients strengthens the relationships and makes sure everyone is on the same page about treatment details.  Minnesota Oncology, a practice that uses My Care Plus, regularly utilizes the portal to quickly recap phone conversations between the patient support nurse and patient in a written form. This has been particularly beneficial for patients’ proxies who can view their family members’ portal to review exactly what was discussed with the team. It helps ensure patients and their proxies understand the recommendations and saves time by eliminating the need for them to call the practice to get the information.

In just the last five years, we’ve seen tremendous progress in the use of patient portals by practices and patients who both find great value in the tool as an effective, efficient means for supporting patients and positively impacting practice efficiency. All indications are that trend will continue as more oncology practices implement the technology, functionality of portals continues to expand, patients become increasingly comfortable with technology, and practices that already have portals in place continue to encourage patients to use them.   

About the Contributor

Dan Lodder is Vice President and General Manager of Technology Solutions at McKesson Specialty Health.

McKesson Specialty Health, a division of McKesson Corporation, empowers the community patient care delivery system by helping community practices advance the science, technology and quality of care. Through innovative clinical, research, business and operational solutions, facilitated by integrated technology systems, we focus on improving the financial health of our customers so they may provide the best care to their patients. For more information, visit www.mckessonspecialtyhealth.com.

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