How one healthcare system is empowering patients by enabling medical imaging access through the patient portal

If I’m being honest, I login to MyChart at least three times a week. That may seem like a lot, but when you are the parent of a child with a chronic illness, the patient portal becomes your information lifeline. Not only does it provide direct access to my child’s specialists, vital in the early days of diagnosis, it also allows an analytics nerd like me to view test results over time, a feature that has quelled more than a few sleepless nights.

I am an “engaged patient,” I suppose – or at least the engaged parent of a patient. I am actively participating in my child’s care and, through the portal, feel connected to his healthcare team. Doing so, research shows, can lead to better health outcomes and greater satisfaction with the care delivered to my child.

Patient portals are the plumbing in the patient engagement process. Clinical data is the water that flows through the plumbing.

– Michelle Ronan Noteboom

Access to the patient portal is key to that engagement, though I understand Healthcare IT News’ Michelle Ronan Noteboom’s perspective on the technology. “Patient portals are the plumbing in the patient engagement process,” she writes. “Clinical data is the water that flows through the plumbing.”

Are the pipes detached from the faucet?

I might go a step further and suggest that the patient portal is the faucet to which many pipes lead. The real question, though, is this: are there pipes detached from the faucet? If so, how do we connect them?

In other words, is there unstructured data, like medical images, that patients can’t access through the portal? And, if so, is there a way to make that data easily accessible?

Patients want easy access to medical images – especially now

The need for patients to access their medical images is nothing new. For decades, patients have transported images and files to a specialist who requests them. Gaining access to those images was another story.

Patients placed a request for those images, waited for confirmation that the request was received, and then carried those images to the specialist via a CD they would pick up from the doctor’s office. The process can create a great deal of anxiety.

Even more so today, in the midst of COVID-19 – when one of the best ways to avoid infection and limit disease spread is social distancing – fetching a hardcopy CD from a hospital or clinic can hamper those efforts and put some patients at risk.

Recognizing this problem, one major East Coast healthcare system set a course toward eliminating hardcopy digital media altogether. And, quite by accident, that effort began before COVID-19.

Giving patients access to medical images through the patient portal

In 2017, the healthcare system’s leadership team wanted to reimagine the patient digital experience. It wanted to interact with patients in a new way, make them more engaged, and provide them with the right information at the right time. It was a completely new patient engagement – and patient care – strategy.

Part of that reinvention included the patient portal. The team wanted the experience to be intuitive. Logging on, patients could download easy-to-understand appointment prep information, choose how to contact doctors and staff, easily schedule exams, and access a comprehensive view of test results, including medical images.

It was an enormous undertaking, and they made it happen.

Today, the healthcare system’s patients can access – and share – medical images via a link in their reports, accessible through the portal. This is accomplished by using Hyland Healthcare’s NilRead Enterprise Viewer, a zero-footprint solution that provides anytime, anywhere image access and viewing, integrated with Epic MyChart.

How NilRead engages patients through the patient portal

Most electronic medical records (EMR) provide an incomplete picture of the patient. The EMR represents discrete information well, but medical images and related information crucial to diagnosis and treatment are locked in departmental silos. Clinicians often have to access multiple systems and viewers to find what they are looking for. If they can’t find the info – or don’t know it’s there – they won’t use it for diagnosis.

The NilRead Enterprise Viewer can display images from a variety of departmental archiving solutions – even legacy PACS – from the EMR for easy access, review, and comparison. NilRead’s zero-footprint, web-based architecture means there’s nothing to install and users can access images on any web-enabled mobile device.

The same technology image-enables the East Coast healthcare system’s patient portal. The hospital liked that NilRead was compatible with different operating systems and would render images well on smartphones and tablets, which is how the majority of its patients accessed the portal and their image archive.

The hospital soft-launched the new experience without announcing the change. Within 24 hours, more than 952 patients had accessed the solution, viewing a combined 1,728 studies. On top of that, the team received zero incident reports. Patients, it seemed, were finding it easy and intuitive to use – and are eager to see more.

Ending medical imaging CD burning for good

Going forward, the healthcare system wants to protect patients further by providing immediate access to release images, with the goal of reducing the need to burn CDs. Today, more than half of the CDs requested by patients are burned on the same day as service. Providing immediate access to those images, before diagnostic results are released, could dramatically reduce that number.

It also encourages social distancing and can reduce COVID-19 community spread by keeping patients away from wait rooms and lobbies.

The hospital also hopes to give patients the ability to upload diagnostic images. This would further reduce the need for patients to bring digital media to the office.

Seeing the whole healthcare journey

In the end, what it’s really about is helping the patient see their whole healthcare journey. It’s the flip side of seeing your whole patient, and quite possibly the one thing that can create true patient engagement. Or, as one doctor put it, “How can patients participate if they can’t see what I see?”

I know this has eased my mind about my child’s personal healthcare journey. I know where we are because I can see it all in front of me. And that has made all the difference.

Ready to learn more about NilRead Enterprise Viewer and how it can help you see your whole patient? And help your patients see their whole healthcare journey?

Tom Tennant

Tom Tennant

Tom Tennant, a senior editor and creator on Hyland’s content marketing team, joined Hyland in 2010 as its first brand journalist. He was a news editor and reporter before diving... read more about: Tom Tennant

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