Study: Benefit of patient portals 'unclear'

Patients increasingly are embracing the concept of patient portals, but it's still unknown whether the portals actually improve outcomes, increase patient satisfaction or create efficiencies, according to new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The researchers, in a study supported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, reviewed 46 different studies of patient portals tethered to EHRs, including randomized, controlled trials, observational hypothesis-testing studies and qualitative studies. They didn't find much to commend in the portals, and evidence was mixed as to whether the tools improved outcomes and satisfaction; the effect on utilization and efficiencies also was "unclear." Any benefits associated with portal use may actually be attributable to increased case management, the authors said.

"Preliminary evidence suggests that, like many health IT tools, enhanced outcomes are realized when [portals] are implemented as elements of more comprehensive programs that link the tool with other approaches. ... [It's] unlikely that patient portals will have substantial effects on utilization or efficiency, at least in the near term," the authors said, according to an article in Clinical Innovation+Technology.

Other research has found deficiencies with patient portals. While patient engagement is a major component of Stage 2 of the Meaningful Use program, patient portal vendors vary in their ability to meet the program's requirements, and some providers are delaying purchase due to the inability of a portal to meet their needs.

Some hospitals also are choosing convenience over usability when it comes to patient portals, using the same vendor for both the portal and their EHR system.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the Clinical Innovation+Technology article