Patient portal usage associated with better preventive health engagement

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Patient use of an online portal has been linked to significant improvements in preventive health behaviors, according to a study of 10,000 patients by Penn Medicine researchers.

Results of their retrospective observational cohort, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, show that those who used an online patient portal were 50 percent more likely to get a flu shot and twice as likely to have their blood pressure checked, compared with patients who do not use portals.

In addition, patients using the portal were 50 percent more likely to have their cholesterol levels checked.

In the study, patients used a Penn Medicine–branded version of Epic’s MyChart portal—called myPennMedicine—that gives users real-time information about medical records and test results, prescriptions, appointments as well as other important health information.

“This study is among the first to demonstrate that patient portal use is positively associated with patient preventive health behavior outcomes but not with chronic health outcomes,” conclude the study’s authors. “These findings contribute to the understanding and quantification of the impact of patient portal use on patient health outcomes. Additional research is required to confirm these findings.”

Going forward, researchers intend to assess how the use of portals over time impact patients’ chronic health conditions. Given that their study was limited to data collected over two years and saw no distinctions in chronic health outcomes, they surmise that a longer look might provide insight into whether portals can be used to provide better care for these conditions.

“Future research with a longer time window could be conducted to study the temporal relationship between portal usage and the risk of developing chronic conditions,” according to the authors. “A future research direction is to understand the longitudinal impact of portal use on the trajectory of chronic health outcomes, which can provide new insights to patients, healthcare providers, policy makers and other stakeholders on how patient portals can ultimately improve chronic health conditions.”

Kevin Mahoney, the study’s senior author and CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, notes that “chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and hypertension affect more than half of the adults in the United States, and primary prevention—through screenings and monitoring—is considered one of the best strategies for reducing the prevalence of these conditions.”

Mahoney adds that “this is the first study to find a meaningful connection between patient portal use and health behaviors, which could have a tremendous impact on patients’ health.”

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