For rural residents, managing chronic disease can be tough – especially for those with more than one. Long distances to care providers can make getting to appointments even more challenging. Integrating medical records into online patient portals may help bridge the gap between rural patients and their physicians, but a recent study from the University of Missouri found that not all patients registered on these portals are using them.
Nation-wide, an upwards of $30 billion has been spent incentivizing the use of electronic health records, or EHRs, but some uses have been more successful than others. According to an MU researcher, though EHRs have been widely adopted in acute care, rates of use in other areas like primary care and disease management are much lower.
Though more and more health systems are making EHRs accessible to patients through online portals, and even if patients opt to register for the portal, many patients are not logging onto them.
“We would assume that if you took the time to register your account, you were actually going to use this tool,” study author Kimberly Powell said. “But a large number of patients in our sample didn’t do that.”
The study, conducted by a team at MU’s Sinclair School of Nursing, surveyed 500 patients with two or more chronic illnesses in a primary care organization about their use of online health portals. They found that more than one-third of patients registered on an online portal did not log in once.
Powell is a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Nursing, as well as an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She said rural residents might benefit most from online patient portals.
“Distance especially is a very interesting finding because patients who may live further away from their provider may stand to benefit from a tool like this because it allows them remote access – whether you live in a rural area, or an area that’s underserved, she said. “Having better ways to connect with your provider and communicate with them is increasingly important.”
Powell and her coauthors found that, among patients sampled, the further away a patient lived from their provider the more they logged into the online portal. The study noted, however, that previous research in the field found that rural residents use online health portals at a lesser rate than urban patients.
The study notes that results may not be generalizable to the whole population. Study participants were randomly-selected from the same primary care organization in the Southeastern region of the U.S., and are all on private insurance plans. Powell said more research needs to be done to know exactly how much patients are using online health portals.