Mayo Clinic study shows patient portals have no impact on hospital readmissions or mortality

Previous research has have tackled patient portal usability and satisfaction among users, but few studies have looked at the impact of portals on hospital outcomes.

A new study out of the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, does just that with relatively uninspiring results.

Researchers found that 30-day readmissions, inpatient mortality and 30-day mortality were virtually the same when comparing hospitalized patients that used portals versus those that did not, leading them to conclude that patient portals may not ultimately improve hospital outcomes. The results were published last week the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

But that doesn’t mean patient portals are entirely worthless. The researchers noted that of the 44% of patients that registered for a portal account, just 20.8% accessed it while they were hospitalized. Therefore, higher adoption rates could have a bigger impact on outcomes. 

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Portal usage may also be more impactful for patients managing chronic diseases rather than an acute illness. Several other factors including mobile device availability, education and real-time access to physician notes could also have a positive influence on engagement and perhaps tip the scales when it comes to outcomes.

“The first step in determining whether patient portal use can improve hospital outcomes is to increase adoption and use by designing inpatient-specific portal tools that can engage patients and make them active participants in their health care,” the researchers wrote, adding that future research should focus on experience and engagement.

The study adds to recent research that shows patients often access test results through portals, but more could be done to help them understand exactly what those results mean. The Government Accountability Office has also highlighted poor user experience and wasted time as reasons that most patients don’t access their medical records, noting that just 15% of hospital patient access their medical records.