As health care costs alarm the nation and the debate increases about the impact of health information technologies, patients are reviewing their medical records increasingly through secure Internet portals. Important questions remain about the impact of portal use on office visits.
To evaluate whether use of patient Internet portals to access records is associated with increased primary care utilization.
A prospective cohort study.
Primary care patients registered on patient Internet portals, within an integrated health system serving rural Pennsylvania and an academic medical center in Boston.
Frequency of “clinical portal use” (days/2 mo intervals over 2 y) included secure messaging about clinical issues and viewing laboratory and radiology findings. In year 2, a subset of patients also gained access to their primary care doctor’s visit notes. The main outcome was number of primary care office visits.
In the first 2 months of the 2-year period, 14% of 44,951 primary care patients engaged in clinical portal use 2 or more days per month, 31% did so 1 day per month, and the remainder had no clinical portal use. Overall, adjusted for age, sex, and chronic conditions, clinical portal use was not associated with subsequent office visits. Fewer than 0.1% of patients engaged in high levels of clinical portal use (31 or more login days in 2 mo) that were associated with 1 or more additional visits in the subsequent 2 months (months 3 and 4). However, the reverse was true: office visits led to subsequent clinical portal use. Similar trends were observed among patients with or without access to visit notes.
Patients turn to their portals following visits, but clinical portal use does not contribute to an increase in primary care visits.