Study: Increased use of patient portals leads to uptick in outpatient visits

Access to a patient portal through the EHR can help improve patients' self management of healthcare services, resulting in increased outpatient appointments and reduced emergency room visits and hospitalizations, according to a recent study published in PLOS One.

Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente researchers analyzed the rates of outpatient office and ER visits as well as hospitalizations among 165,447 of the health system's patients. The study participants were split between individuals who have diabetes and those who have diabetes plus one of the following additional chronic conditions: asthma, congestive artery disease, congestive heart failure or hypertension.

The study examined both patients who had access to an electronic portal and those who did not have access from January 2006 to December 2007. The patient portal allows individuals to complete functions such as view lab results and visit summaries, message their providers and request medication refills.

Results of the study showed that access to a patient portal was correlated with an increase in monthly office visits, with 179 per 1,000 patients per month completing a visit. Of the patients who had only diabetes, the results of monthly outpatient visits were 178 per 1,000 patients per month and for patients with multiple chronic conditions, results were 167 more office visits per 1,000 patients per month.

Additionally, patients who access the portal were associated with fewer ED visits and preventable hospital stays, with just 3.5 visits per 1,000 patients per month and 0.8 per 1,000 patients per month, respectively.

The study authors concluded that patient portals may be helpful in increasing patient engagement in outpatient office visits, which offers a space to address unmet clinical needs and reduce health events that can lead to emergency and hospital patient care.

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