Patients with active patient portals get out of the hospital faster, Epic data show

Patients with an active patient portal are more likely to have shorter hospital stays, according to a new study based on data from electronic health record giant Epic.

The study by the Epic Health Research Network relied on data from 2017 through 2021 collected by Epic’s Cosmos database and focused specifically on admissions for COVID-19 and heart failure. The study evaluated patients with a MyChart that had been used in the past two weeks.

Patients with active MyCharts had, on average, a stay half to a full day shorter than those without. The difference was more dramatic among COVID-19 patients than those with heart failure; COVID patient stays were up to half a day shorter. 

Denise Rasmussen, a registered nurse and the lead clinician on the study, suspects this might be a result of the variation in treating COVID-19 patients, she told Fierce Healthcare. By contrast, providers have long had a clear care plan for patients admitted with heart failure.

The largest reduction (just over a day) in the length of a stay was among COVID patients ages 65 to 74. The smallest reduction (less than one-tenth of a day) was among COVID patients ages 85 and older. The greatest reduction among patients admitted for heart failure was also among those ages 65 to 74.

“It really represents how a much more engaged patient tends to have better outcomes overall,” Rasmussen said, pointing out that many studies have proven this trend. She was not surprised by the study’s findings, she said.

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The reason she and her team chose COVID admissions is because of how prominent they have been over the past year and a half. They chose patients with heart failure because it is one of the most common admission diagnoses. 

Early discharge can be a positive thing for some patients who do best recovering in their home, Rasmussen noted. And a patient portal’s accessibility might be one of the reasons having an active one makes a difference. Organizations might feel confident discharging a patient early if they know they can monitor them using the patient portal from home.

Other potential factors include patients who are active on MyChart being more engaged in their healthcare overall. Social determinants could also affect how engaged patients are, like not having reliable internet, which is a factor that the study did not measure. 

Going forward, Rasmussen and her team will be thinking about follow-up studies to track this trend, she said.