Patient portals – a guide for patients

Key points about patient portals

  • Patient portals are secure websites provided by GPs, where you can access your health information and interact with your general practice.
  • Using a secure online patient portal service, you can manage and keep track of both your own and your family/whānau’s health.
  • It can be compared to online banking, but for health.
  • Patient portals are increasingly being offered by general practices around Aotearoa New Zealand.
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Video: How to use a patient portal

The following video demonstrates how to use a patient portal. It may take a few moments to load.

(Healthify He Puna Waiora, NZ, 2021)

Patient portals can allow you to:

  • send and receive secure messages to your GP or a practice nurse
  • see notes from your last GP appointment
  • see your test results
  • see a list of your health conditions
  • book appointments
  • ask for repeat prescriptions
  • see your vaccination history
  • receive reminders from the practice team.

Not all healthcare providers offer all the services listed above. They can choose which services to offer when they introduce a patient portal. Some will show your complete medical record, some will show a summary of your health information and some won’t offer this service.

Find out from your healthcare provider what services they offer through their patient portal.

If you need some help with understanding the words and terms used in your notes here's a list of commonly used terms and abbreviations

There are a number of different patient portals in Aotearoa New Zealand. Your healthcare provider will tell you which patient portal is available at their practice.

To sign up for a patient portal:

  • Talk to your healthcare provider or the administration staff to see if their practice is offering the service.
  • If it is, they will then get you set up with a secure username and password. 
  • Once you have supplied your email address to your practice, you will be sent an email inviting you to register for a patient portal and choose a password.
  • After signing up, you’ll have access to a range of different tools that you can use to manage your health.
  • Depending on what your healthcare provider has included, you could do anything from checking medical records to getting prescription repeats.
  • As your patient portal is an extension of your healthcare provider's current services, you can trust that it's secure.
  • Your information will remain totally confidential and your portal is protected by your own unique password.
  • When you’ve finished using your portal each time, simply log out of your account.

Patient portals are voluntary, and even if you sign up for one you can opt out at any time.

You can use your patient portal on devices such as laptops, personal computers, tablets or smartphones. If you have an email address and access to the internet, you can see your portal anywhere at any time.

Your general practice already has systems in place to make sure your information is kept private and confidential. If your healthcare provider decides to introduce a patient portal, the practice’s security systems will be reviewed to ensure your health information remains secure. An audit trail will show who has accessed the patient portal, to make sure your health information has been seen only by staff who are allowed to see it. You should protect your patient password as carefully as you would protect an electronic banking password.

If you want to share access to your online health information with a caregiver or family/whānau member, talk to your healthcare provider. They will be able to grant another person access by using a separate login and password. You can withdraw permission at any time.

Patient portals can enable parents to access the health information for their younger children. As children get older, there reaches a point where privacy becomes important. By the age of 16, access to a child’s record is unlikely to be granted or maintained unless there is clear reason (such as a 16-year-old with intellectual impairment) or with clear authorisation from the young person.

Using a patient portal is not suitable in an emergency when you need immediate medical advice. In this situation, call 111. 

A patient portal does not replace face-to-face communication with your healthcare provider. While it allows you to view your health record, lab results and request repeat prescriptions, it doesn't replace the need to attend your regular healthcare provider visits and talk to your doctor or nurse if you have any concerns about your health.

Portals can allow patients to:

  • request repeat prescriptions
  • book appointments
  • see their lab results
  • see GP's clinical notes
  • see their current diagnosis
  • see a list of their medical conditions
  • see a list of the medications they are on
  • see their immunisation and vaccination history
  • receive reminders and recalls from the practice team
  • send and receive secure messages to and from their GP or a practice nurse.

Growth in use of patient portals

From 1 October to 31 December 2020, there was an increase in registrations of 5.5% for patients using patient portals. There was a 20% increase in practices offering access to clinical notes (see below) and 267 practices reported 183,900 appointments were booked online.

OpenNotes

OpenNotes is the term given to opening up the health record so that patients can see their own notes and medical record including consultation records, lab results, immunisations, medications and recalls. This is done through a secure online portal, similar to online banking. Read more about OpenNotes for healthcare providers.

Learn more and resources for healthcare providers

Open Notes website(external link)

OpenNotes: Building transparency, trust, and better health outcomes Podcast (external link)and transcript of podcast, (external link) Health Literacy Out Loud, 2016

Implementing a patient portal
The Royal NZ College of General Practitioners and the Ministry of Health's National IT Board have developed a useful implementation guide for general practice clinics.

Patient portals: practical guidelines for implementation(external link)
The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners and the Ministry of Health’s National Health IT Board (2015)

Patient portals(external link) Te Whatu Ora, NZ
GPs and patients benefit from OpenNotes(external link) HINZ, NZ

References

  1. Patient portals(external link) Te Whatu Ora, 2023
  2. Patient portals: practical guidelines for implementation(external link)
    The Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners and the Ministry of Health’s National Health IT Board (2015)
  3. OpenNotes (external link)
  4. GPs and patients benefit from OpenNotes(external link) HINZ, 2019

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Credits: Healthify Editorial Team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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