Frequency, portal use tied to comfort with e-visits

Patients who regularly seek care and who have an account through a patient portal are more likely to seek e-visits, according to a study published in Telemedicine and e-Health.

The research looked at a variety of factors involved in e-visits offered through four physician practices in the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center system.

Those factors included age, gender, race, diagnoses, employment, marital status, whether the patient had a patient portal account and zip code. It focused on diagnoses for sinusitis and urinary tract infection, finding that women and those who had been to the doctor three or more times in the past year were more likely to seek e-visits. On the other hand, people older than 65 were more likely to want to see the doctor in person. 

The researchers said they had expected those who seek e-visits to be younger, wealthier patients who live farther away and who do not regularly seek care, which turned out to be only partially true. Convenience was certainly a factor, with distance and the winter months associated with more e-visits.

They found no relationship between employment status and income, however, challenging the idea of a "digital divide" in which lower-income people do not use Internet-based services.

People who sought care more frequently, however, were more likely to have an account on the patient portal and to use e-visits.

The study notes that e-visits make up approximately five percent of visits for these two conditions at these four clinics, and it will take some time for e-visits to be a viable alternative source of revenue.

A global survey by technology vendor Cisco earlier this year found patients warming up to the idea of virtual doctor visits. Providers, however, were more willing to share personal and private information online than consumers.

Telehealth has been found effective in follow-up after some low-risk surgeries and for patients with implantable electronic cardiovascular devices, though some patients still prefer face-to-face follow-up.

To learn more:
- read the study