EHRs, portals have a positive effect on diabetes care

Electronic health records and patient portals can improve the care of patients with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, according to a new article from Kaiser Permanente.

Kaiser has been studying the effect of its EHR system, called Kaiser Permanente Health Connect, and its patient portal, My Health Manager, on patient engagement over the course of several years. All 618 of Kaiser's medical offices and 38 hospitals have implemented the systems. Kaiser has conducted three studies on the subject, examining its diabetes registry.

In the first study, conducted from 2004-2009 during the EHR's rollout, physicians who used EHRs were more likely to monitor patients' cholesterol levels and intensify treatment if needed, leading to reductions in patients' "bad" cholesterol. In the second study, conducted in 2013, the researchers further analyzed that data and found those who used EHRs had reductions in their patients' emergency department visits and hospitalizations by 5.54 percent and 5.21 percent, respectively.

The third study, which is still underway, has found that nearly 50 percent of diabetes patients view their cholesterol levels via the portal within a week of being posted, which is associated with better follow up.

Mary Reed, a research scientist for Kaiser's Northern California' Division of Research, hopes that providers keep an "open mind" about integrating virtual care in to healthcare.  

"More and more care is going to happen outside of the traditional setting," she said. "As virtual care becomes more popular and technology becomes more patient-facing, having patient reported outcomes is essential."

Other studies have found that health IT and patient engagement can improve outcomes, including those involving diabetics. They can also have both a positive and negative effect on provider workflow. However, there are significant differences in the use of online portals by different consumer groups, which can lead to disparities.

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