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Online Portals: More Consistent Physician – Patient Interaction

American Medical News recently carried an article that revealed how patients who communicate with doctors and access their medical records via online portals are more involved in their healthcare. This would also persuade them to pay more visits to their physicians. It is, however, believed that already busy physicians may have to deal with more appointments.

There had been concerns voiced earlier that online portals would bring down the number of personal contacts between physicians and patients. However, a more recent study published in the November 21 Journal of the American Medical Association endorse the use of online portals because of advantages such as:

  • Patients will be able to identify additional health issues
  • Understand preventive health requirements
  • Receive more useful services

The study involved the comparison between people who had access to their medical records and physicians via an online portal, and those in the same age group and similar health status that didn’t have access to an online portal during the period of one year. It was found that patients who enjoyed the privilege of online access had an average of 0.7 more office visits and 0.3 more telephone meetings a year. This means that a physician with a thousand patients accessing an online portal will have 10 more clinic visits and 5.5 more phone calls every week. Though this may seem a bit intimidating to busy clinicians, the fact remains that a more warm and dynamic relationship is likely to develop between providers and their patients. Patients are also more likely to be compliant, and more forthcoming with questions.

This possibility is advantageous for practices looking to qualify for Stage 2 meaningful use bonuses. They would be able to meet the requirement of having a patient portal with 5% patients using it. It is also expected that online portals will help improve care and enable providers to be eligible for insurer bonuses in a patient-centered medical home, an accountable care organization or another new payment model.

Plus Points of Online Portals

  • Valuable time spent on phone calls can be saved, and additional appointments managed
  • Visits can be made shorter and more efficient
  • Patients can access follow-up instructions online
  • Patient education can be effectively provided
  • Results of tests can be easily conveyed

What about Patients?

Patients differ in their approaches to the new system. All are not thrilled at the idea of using an online portal to interact with their physicians. The senior citizens are those not very interested in using the new system. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals that internet usage in the U.S varies with age. Data collected as of September 2011 show that while 81% of Americans use the internet, the usage is different with different age groups. 95% of people in the age group 18 – 29 are online, compared to 52% of seniors. This statistics is likely to be the same with online patient portals also. Manhattan Research reported that as of October 2011, 56 million patients accessed medical records via online portals, and 41 million expressed their desire to use the new system. 140 million had neither used the portals nor were interested in using them.

So, the number of patients utilizing the new system would depend on the practice. Practices with more number of senior patients are less likely to see any active use of the online portal system.

About Rajeev Rajagopal

Rajeev Rajagopal

Manages the day-to-day operations of MOS from NY. With an interest in information technology, I have guided MOS to extensive use of digital technology and the internet that benefits MOS as well as MOS clients.