UPMC's patient portal goes mobile

With its innovative approach to managing patient health easy access to the portal is becoming more important than ever
By Kate Spies
02:41 PM

A health portal used by patients and doctors at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) is now accessible on iPhones and iPads, thanks to the new mobile HealthTrak application. With its innovative approach to managing patient health - through technology like eVisits and tethered records - easy access to the portal is becoming more important than ever. 

UPMC is one of the nation's premier nonprofit health systems. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, the center is composed of 20 hospitals, a 1.4-million member health plan, and more than 400 doctors' offices and outpatient sites. The HealthTrak portal is a powerful technological thread running through UPMC, helping to provide integration.

"HealthTrak is a patient portal," said G. Daniel Martich, MD, chief medical information officer at UPMC. "It's a tethered electronic medical record and patient database. 'Tethered' means the provider and patient are able to look at the same data; it provides complete transparency."

Essentially, what the doctor sees (lab data, test results) the patient sees as well. "Doctors like it, because they don't necessarily have to enter data, which is what they would have to do if it was an untethered record," said Martich.

[See also: Q&A: Mostashari on the innovations electronic data will spark.]
Through their HealthTrak accounts, UPMC patients are able manage their health using the Internet. The portal grants them the ability to schedule appointments, review medical histories and test results, renew prescriptions, and ask billing questions - all with the click of a keyboard. Now, using the mobile HealthTrak application, many of these functions are available by tapping the glass of an iPad or an iPhone.

To access HealthTrak data using a mobile device, patients must secure a HealthTrak account by visiting UPMCHealthTrak.com. Mobile-users should then download MyChart from the iTunes Applications store, and select UPMC as the healthcare provider.

"We know that our patients need and want secure access to their medical records, even when they are on the go. With this mobile version of UPMC's HealthTrak, already used by more than 62,000 patients, we can offer them a convenient and free way to manage their care," Martich said.

As the 62,000 user count suggests, UPMC patients seem to approve of the HealthTrak portal, and their utilization is growing every week. As Martich explained, since HealthTrak's pilot period about four years ago, the magnitude of users has increased tremendously.

[See also: Docs, patients ready for online tools.]

"We expect that number to be over 100,000 by year's end. It's growing every day," said Martich. "Our user amount is increasing by about 600 each week. The word gets out. The news about HealthTrak is spreading in healthcare media and in the academic press, as well as simply among neighbors and friends. It's certainly growing in popularity."

With the increasing positivity surrounding HealthTrak, Martich expects patients to respond enthusiastically to the mobile app.

Continued on next page...

eVisits enhancing web-based health management

Another facet of the HealthTrak portal has been gaining popularity in the recent months: The ability to virtually visit the doctor's office. Known as eVisit technology, the HealthTrak portal grants patients the option of conducting an online doctor's visit. EVisits are available through the online portal, and have yet to become accessible through the mobile app.

An eVisit is tailored for a HealthTrak patient who is struggling with a non-pressing, commonplace health problem; someone who wants to check in with a doctor but does not necessarily need to leave the comfort of home to do so. Typical symptoms addressed by eVisits include rashes, back pains, sinus infections, cold symptoms and headaches. Patients sign into their HealthTrak accounts, answer questions about their conditions, submit the information, and await the doctor's response.

As Martich explains, "We walk through an algorithm with the patients online. They describe their symptoms, submit a report to the doctor, and the doctor will get back to them, typically within two to four hours. Our average response time is two and half hours. Patients run through an algorithm that the doctor has created to become diagnosed. It's essentially ePrescribing."

[See also: Stat Health gives employers alternative to ER visits.]

Besides clear convenience, eVisit technology offers cost-efficiency as well. It has won coverage from several insurance providers; in many cases, eVisit-users will not have to pay for the service.

"Insurance companies did not necessarily want to pay for simple email conversations between patients and doctors. We both wanted something deeper and richer than that," Martich said, "And that's what eVisit technology is."

The magnitude of eVisit performance has increased significantly over the past year. Whereas a UPMC doctor might have dealt with eight to nine submissions per week in early 2010, by January of 2011 participating doctors began to expect up to eight or nine eVisits a day.

"I think it's a good adjunct to care, it's helpful convenience care," Martich said of eVisit technology. "It's not necessarily the full spectrum of care. However, I do think the full of spectrum of care will come to involve many things, things we couldn't even imagine ten years ago, like the iPad. Eventually, care will evolve using a whole range of technology: chatting, texting, apps. We just don't know right now."