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Patient Portal Use Low in Chronic Care Patient Populations

Few chronic illness patients are using the patient portal, even though they have taken the steps to adopt the technology.

patient portal use

Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Despite going through the steps of patient portal registration, 35 percent of chronic care patients have never used the technology, according to new data from the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing.

Although medical professionals aim to facilitate strong patient portal adoption and use in all patient populations, experts agree that the tool is especially important and well-suited for patient managing a chronic illness.

Between improved patient data access and strong patient-provider communication channels, the patient portal presents opportunities for patients to stay connected to their chronic disease management plans.

But that is not exactly the reality, according to two researchers from MU. Kimberly Powell, a post-doctoral fellow in aging, informatics and quality research in the School of Nursing, and Chelsea Deroche, assistant professor of biostatistics in MU’s School of Medicine, noticed that chronically ill patients were not using the patient portal.

In an assessment of patients over the age of 45, who had registered for the patient portal, and who had at least two chronic conditions, Powell and Deroche found that use was scant. Only 35 percent of patients had used the portal beyond registration.

This was especially troubling considering the fact that the patients included in the analysis had actively registered for the technology.

“We were troubled to see that so many patients never used the portal,” Powell said in a statement. “We only looked at registered users, and registering for the portal is a two-step process that suggests a degree of commitment. The fact that many people who took the time to register never logged in to the portal indicates there is still work to be done.”

Typically, a study will assess portal popularity by looking at the number of patients who registered for the technology. In looking at use habits of those who had registered, Powell and Deroche discovered that limited patient portal use was not just the product of registration issues. There are also technology flaws that keep patients from coming back to the technology.

Additionally, the study revealed some barriers to strong patient portal use.

For example, patients who lived further away from their medical practices were more likely to use the patient portal. This finding indicates that the communication functions, such as secure direct messaging, are attractive patient portal features.

“The importance of distance from primary care providers indicates patient portals could be beneficial for people in rural or underserved areas,” Powell said. “The potential is there, but with such a high rate of non-use, it is clear that portals need to be integrated into clinical care in a meaningful way.”

Other researchers have observed similar trends with patient portals. Patient portal use can be predicted by whether or not the technology has the functions that patients value and want in order to make their healthcare experiences easier.

Regardless of whether a patient has a chronic illness or not, medical professionals may wish to consider highlighting the patient portal features that are important to their unique patient populations. For example, Thomas Selva, MD, the Chief Medical Information officer at MU Health, said that adding patient-centered features to the technology was essential to porta adoption.

“We started asking, ‘What would bring people to the portal?’’’ Selva said in a previous interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com. “That was, again, what reduces the friction between the patient and the healthcare facility or the healthcare they're trying to acquire.”

The most popular patient portal features worth marketing included secure messaging with providers, access to portal notes, and ability to book appointments online. From there, Selva and his team could point to those useful functions and promote the portal as an essential tool for the healthcare experience.

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