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Nov 28, 2012

Online Medical Records Increase Use of Clinical Services

Surprising findings about patient portals.

Having online access to medical records has become increasingly popular over the years. More than 70 million Americans already have electronic access to these “patient portals”, and this number is sure to increase in the near future. Why? Many experts believe that providing patients with online access to their medical files will encourage patients to become more active in the care they receive and improve communication between patients and their healthcare providers. Online health records could also improve patient safety and outcomes since information, like medication lists and allergies, can be found all in one place.

But that’s not to say that we understand all the possible implications of having medical records widely available online. In fact, a recent study surprised many experts when it showed that online medical records may increase use of clinical services.

This study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association analyzed data collected over a 5-year period in an integrated healthcare delivery system called Kaiser Permanente Colorado. During this time, Kaiser Permanente Colorado offered a new online system called MyHealthManager, where patients could access their health records, schedule appointments and contact their healthcare providers. More than half of Kaiser Permanente patients utilized MyHealthManager and researchers found that patients utilizing the online system had significantly more office visits, emergency department visits and hospitalizations compared to those who did not use the system.

This difference could have huge implications when it comes to online medical records. If utilization of online records increases use of clinical services, some healthcare providers may not be able to meet this increased demand and might be discouraged from offering online medical records to patients. However, more research is needed to fully understand how online health records will impact healthcare. Ultimately, the goal of patient portals is to empower patients to become more active in the care they receive and improve patient satisfaction, quality of life and outcomes. Online health records may still help achieve these goals and further research will help shed light on this issue, especially as online records become more widespread.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a "patient portal"?

  • Patient portal is a term used to describe online systems where patients can access their medical health records and contact their healthcare providers to make appointments, among other things. The purpose of patient portals is to get patients more involved in the healthcare they receive.
  • What is Kaiser Permanente Colorado?

  • Kaiser Permanente Colorado is an integrated healthcare system in Colorado, which is part of a larger system based in California called Kaiser Permanente. Kaiser Permanente is the nation’s largest nonprofit health plan and covers more than 9 million patients.