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Provider Encouragement Fuels EHR Patient Portal Use, Messaging

Patients encouraged by their providers to access their EHR patient portal reported significantly higher rates of direct secure messaging.

When providers encourage patients to access their EHR patient portal, the latter are much more likely to access their personal health information, according to an ONC data brief based on results from a national survey of adults between January 2020 through April 2020.  

Patients who were encouraged by their healthcare provider to use their patient portal also reported significantly higher rates of viewing clinical notes and exchanging direct secure messages with their provider than those who were not encouraged.

“This illustrates the influence providers have with respect to educating patients about the benefits of having access and the value proposition for doing so,” the brief authors emphasized.

While individuals’ rates of being offered and subsequently accessing their patient portal rose significantly between 2018 and 2019, there was no increase from 2019 to 2020.

About 6 in 10 individuals reported that their healthcare provider or insurer offered access to their patient portal in 2020. And less than 4 in 10 individuals (38%) reported that they accessed their portal at least once throughout the year.

Individuals most often cited lack of need and their preference to communicate directly with their healthcare provider as reasons for not accessing their EHR patient portal.

In 2020, about 6 in 10 patient portal users reported exchanging secure messages with a healthcare provider through their portal. In addition, half of portal users reported accessing clinical notes.

The research also revealed that patient-to-provider data exchange via the patient portal is on the rise. Since 2017, the rate of patient portal users who shared personal health data with their providers has increased seven percent (from 10 percent to 17 percent).

Only five percent of individuals reported electronically sharing their data with an app or service.

Additionally, about a third of portal users downloaded their online medical records in 2020, nearly twice as many users as in 2017.

While the survey found that the most common method of accessing a patient portal is by computer (78 percent), almost 4 in 10 patient portal users accessed their portal using a smartphone health app in 2020.

In addition, portal users who accessed their personal health information using both a computer and a smartphone health app (22 percent) reported accessing their portal more often than those who used one or the other.

“This may indicate that the increased convenience of having access to electronic health information on multiple devices leads to greater use,” the brief authors suggested.

Americans reported using health apps to manage their health: Half of individuals had a mobile health app on their tablet or smartphone and more than 80 percent noted used the app within the past year.

About 7 in 10 individuals with a health app reported using it to track progress on a health-related goal. About half of respondents reported leveraging apps to facilitate discussions with their healthcare providers and make treatment decisions.

“Making it easier for individuals to access and use their electronic health information is a national priority,” the brief authors wrote.

The ONC Cures Act Final Rule aims to advance the development of secure, standards-based APIs that can support applications to help patients manage their personal health information.

“Ultimately, ONC hopes these provisions will enable patients to more easily access and use their health information across patient portals offered by different health care providers,” the brief authors wrote. “Examining how these trends evolve over time will provide insight regarding the extent to which this vision is realized.”

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