4 lessons on patient portals from Kaiser Permanente

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Patient portals have been around for more than a decade, but hospitals and health systems are still working on enabling and optimizing them. The Northwest region of Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente launched its interactive MyChart patient portal in 2003 (now called My Health Manager), but had "an informational patient website" since the 1990s. In a Health Affairs blog, three IT experts with Kaiser Permanente offer four lessons related patient portals they have gleaned over the past decade.

Lesson 1: Secure email can boost clinical outcomes and patient-centered care. An internal Kaiser Permanente study found 90 percent of patients with chronic conditions said the patient portal better enabled them to manage their conditions. A different Kaiser Permanente study found secure email between patients and providers was associated with a 2 percent to 6.5 percent improvement in certain performance measures, including glycemic, cholesterol and blood-pressure screening and control measures. The authors say the reason for the association are unclear, secure email may support continuity of care, a better patient-physician connection and better support for self-management.

Lesson 2: Portals affect patient loyalty. Kaiser Permanente members who use My Health Manager are more likely to stay with the healthcare organization than nonusers, according to the authors. They also cite unpublished internal research that found members report high degrees of satisfaction with email communications with providers.

Lesson 3: There is no evidence that access to secure email was associated with other types of healthcare utilization. The authors cite four observational studies that analyzed how access to secure email may affect how patients use healthcare facilities, none of which offered conclusive information. "Despite the mixed evidence, we know in absolute terms that face-to-face visits per member per year are slightly decreasing within our system, while secure email visits per member have substantially increased," according to the blog. "This experience suggests that primary care access has improved because technology allows more contact with patients."

Lesson 4: E-health disparities persist in patient portal use. The demographics of patient portal users tend to be skewed toward adults over 60, members with a postgraduate degree and non-Hispanic whites, according to the blog. "Kaiser Permanente is working to better understand and to overcome e-health disparities," according to the authors. "Non-users risk being left behind in terms of consumer empowerment, lack access to online tools for managing health and wellness, and can miss out on healthcare quality improvements realized through the patient portal."

More articles on patient portals:

Patient portal adoption increases collections, patient engagement: 3 things to know
Patient portal use exceeds meaningful use benchmarks
If you build a patient portal, why won't they come? 4 thoughts from PatientPay CEO Tom Furr

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