Last week, as we were finishing up a visit, I noticed that my patient had not signed up for our patient portal, a way he could view his electronic chart and communicate directly with me and our office staff. When I asked why, I got a typical answer.

“Doc, I’m really not much of a computer person.”

“Can you type?” I asked.

“With one finger,” he replied.

“Do you have an email account?”

“Yep. That’s about as much computing as I do,” he said.

“Then you’ve got all it takes to use the portal,” I assured him.

Patient portals have really caught on. I know that in our practice, the portal is the most expedient way to communicate with our patients. Logging on to the portal allows you to make appointments, request medication refills, ask questions or send messages to your care team. It is also a great way to review your medical record, including any recent test results. Further, everything you send through the portal becomes part of your electronic health record, so no one can claim that they never received your message. And you never get placed on hold or suffer through a dropped call.

People sometimes criticize computers for being impersonal, yet I have found that our patient portal has enhanced my relationships with patients. It provides a great way to communicate and address problems that may not require an office visit. Having access to your own chart can be empowering, helping you become a more engaged partner in your care.

There is now evidence that using a patient portal may improve preventive health behavior. In a study recently published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, Penn Medicine researchers found that portal users “were 50% more likely to get a flu shot, and twice as likely to have their blood pressure checked, compared with patients who did not use portals.” Further research is needed on the impact of portals on health outcomes, and the outlook is hopeful.

If you think you are not computer savvy enough to use your doctor’s patient portal, think again. Most portals are designed so that almost anyone can learn to use them quickly. Believe it or not, the most difficult part is remembering your username and password, so record those in a safe and accessible place. Office staff are happy to help you get started, as portal use is beneficial for you, and more efficient for your doctor’s practice. You’ll be happy you signed up, and you may even become healthier for it.

Jeffrey Millstein is a primary-care physician and medical director for patient experience-regional practices at Penn Medicine.