Portal effect on outcomes 'weak' without more evidence

Patient portals have "great potential" to improve quality and outcomes, but there's not enough evidence to determine if they're actually doing so, according to a new study in the Journal of Medical Internal Research.

Researchers from Texas State University's School of Health Administration evaluated the effect of patient portals on quality of care, particularly chronic-condition outcomes. They also conducted a study of the literature from 2011-2014, screening 4,000 articles and analyzing 27 of them in-depth. 

They identified some improvements in certain aspects of care that could be attributed to portal use, such as better medication adherence, increased disease awareness and improved self-care, according to the study. In addition, they found portal users were more likely to show up for appointments and there was higher patient loyalty and increased retention of patients when the tool was used.

However, results on medical outcomes were "weak" and there was not enough data to associate the portal with Meaningful Use. The researchers also found many patients were still unaware of the existence of the portal.

Other studies have shown that patients are in favor of on line access and the use of patient portals, but many of them don't use them because they don't know that they're available.

While there was great potential for patient portals to improve care quality and outcomes, according to the study, it was unknown whether providers would be able to take advantage of portal use in this way.

"The market has been slow to adapt, and as a result, the maturity of the portal is not where it needs to be in order to improve quality of care and more deeply involve the patient in the medical decision," the researchers said.

They recommended that patients be trained in portal use and that developers conduct studies on the ease of their use. They also suggested that the Meaningful Use incentives be extended in the area that affects patient portals.

However, a report by Salesforce recently found that most patients still prefer to communicate with their doctor in person or over the phone. Still, the authors of the report say that online patient portals are growing in popularity; 21 percent of the respondents said they use a portal to view their data.

To learn more:
- here's the study