​With the 'mijnzol.be' patient portal, the Belgian hospital Ziekenhuis Oost-Limburg (ZOL) fulfils an important wish of the government and of the patients themselves: more control over their own care process. ZOL realised the importance of healthcare IT early on and is now at the forefront of it. The hospital has already gone through an entire digital evolution and still continues to make improvements. Through the online mijnzol.be portal, the hospital allows patients to access parts of their own health record. This participation increases patient satisfaction and streamlines the healthcare process. Pulmonologist and CMIO Michiel Thomeer explains how the patient can become the physician's care partner.


Participation through the patient portal

'Patients can access all kinds of data through their portal, like correspondence, medication, appointments, vaccinations, lab results, and DNR status. We also use the portal to send questionnaires to our patients. Think of preoperative screening questionnaires, for example, or the PROMs and PREMs, which are questionnaires that gauge the patient's experience after their discharge from hospital. The answers they give are directly integrated into their records.'


Online health record

'We can view all data from the portal and then 'use' this data in the electronic health record (EHR) or in the discharge letter for the GP, for example. The data are registered in a central place and are always available whenever the healthcare provider needs them. This benefits everyone. If we can exchange all necessary information in both directions, the patient no longer has to answer the exact same question four times.'

'Additionally, every piece of information registered by the patient is something I no longer need to inquire about. This means that it is always useful when the patient has prepared the consultation. If we have an asthma patient go through an asthma checklist before a consultation, I hardly even need to take their history anymore. I immediately know if their asthma is under control and I know what to look for as a physician. The pain clinic also takes full advantage of the portal, because they use questionnaires for patient follow-ups. Having patients complete these questionnaires themselves reduces the pressure on the nursing and administrative staff, giving everyone more time to focus on the things that truly matter.'


COVID-19: the patient portal proved its worth

'The portal really proved its worth during the COVID-19 pandemic. There were days, for example, that we conducted 1200 PCR tests. The results were made available through the portal the very same evenings, which saved us a tremendous amount of time. The patients were really happy that they didn't need to wait for a phone call. Many people were introduced to the portal this way.'

'We also use mijnzol.be for the COVID screening questionnaire that every patient has to complete before they enter the hospital. When the patient has completed the questionnaire, it shows a colour code to indicate whether someone has a risk profile and needs to be screened further. The portal has made this entire process much easier.'


The portal saved dozens of occupant days

'The portal offers a lot of possibilities for remote monitoring. There was a point during the first COVID wave that we had so many patients coming in, we started to fear for a shortage of beds. We then decided to allow the patients who required extra oxygen but were otherwise stable, to go home, and to remotely monitor them through the portal. Three times a day, these patients completed a questionnaire in which they indicated their saturation levels. If there where any deviations, we were able to quickly take action. This allowed us to get the available beds we needed to help more patients. This system saved us dozens of occupant days throughout the entire crisis.'


Value-based healthcare

'We've got quite some plans for the future with the patient portal. First, we're going to expand horizontally, what we already offer: making even more appointments online, interacting with the patient more, making more data from the patient record available. Then, for the long term, we will be looking at new applications to improve communication vertically.'

'I see a lot of possibilities to tailor the portal even further to specific conditions and treatments. I also want the patients to be more actively involved in developing the content of their portal. This will greatly improve its usefulness. There is a huge amount of possibilities, but you have to actively use them, while also safeguarding the quality, in order to get useful data. The portal will have to grow, and at some point it will become a natural part of the process.'


Patient Karlijn: 'I always have my medical record with me'

'The patient portal gives me access to my own medical record in an intuitive way. It contains a large variety of my medical information: allergies, outpatient medication, appointments, letters, consultations, results, address details, etc. mijnzol.be allows me to view this information anywhere and anytime. I mostly use the portal on my smartphone, so I literally always have it with me.'

'It is "my" healthcare, so to speak, so I think it is only logical that I play an active part in it. This starts with being informed about the details in my patient record, which the doctor or nurse has access to as well. This way, I can prepare myself better for the consultation or examination in the hospital, for example. This preparation allows me to be more actively involved during the consultation and helps me remember to give all the necessary information. Without the portal, you really only have those fifteen minutes with the doctor and that's it. Now, I feel I'm able to get much more out of it'