Study: Discussing Patient Portals During Office Visits Can Boost Use

September 18, 2014 in News

Using primary care visits to encourage patients to use online patient portals is the most effective method for increasing use of the technology, according to a new study published in the Annals of Family Medicine, Health Data Management reports.

Details of Study

For the study, researchers analyzed data on 112,893 patients who had in-person medical visits at eight primary care practices in Virginia (Goth, Health Data Management, 9/16). The practices implemented different strategies to promote patient portal use and integrate the portals into workflow and care (Krist et al., Annals of Family Medicine, September/October 2014).


Overall, the study found that promoting online patient portals during primary care visits was the most effective way to increase use of the technology, compared with mailing campaigns and other advertising efforts. 

Specifically, researchers found that during the 31-month study period:

  • About 26% of the patients who visited the practices throughout the study created an account on the patient portal;
  • About 33% of the patients who visited the practices during the final month of the study had a new or existing patient portal account (Health Data Management, 9/16); and
  • 23.5% of portal users signed up within one day of their visit.

Overall, patient use of the portals increased by 1% each month of the study period (Annals of Family Medicine, September/October 2014).

In comparison, just 16.8% of patients used the portals when mailing campaigns were used.

Meanwhile, the study found that one in three patients ages 60 to 69 used the online patient portals, a rate higher than any other age group included in the study.


Alex Krist — lead author of the study and an associate professor at VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Family Medicine and Population Health — said the high use among older patients “seems like it was driven by the fact that they were more likely to have a chronic condition and more likely to have a need for health information, but it is still a finding counter to many people’s concern that older people won’t get online.”

Krist said, “While patient portals can help to engage patients in their care and even lead to improved health outcomes, getting patients online has been difficult,” adding, “However, primary care practices can effectively encourage their patients to use a portal by making promotion of the portal part of routine care” (Health Data Management, 9/16).

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