Though previous studies have shown the ability for portals to increase healthcare efficiency, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association questions whether online access to records reduces the number of patient visits.

These new findings contradict previous theories that providing patients with online access to medical records would reduce office visits and increase the efficiency of care delivery, saving time and money for both patients and physicians, according to an article from Reuters.com.

Conducted by researchers from Kaiser Permanente, the study compared over 40,000 health plan members with the ability to access online and communicate with physicians to an equal number of patients who did not. Research showed that patient visits and communication tended to increase in the first year among patients who had started using online access to their records, while rates of healthcare use among patients without access remained constant or declined in the same time period.

­According to the study, increased rates of patient use of healthcare services included:

  • Office visits: 0.7 per member per year
  • Telephone encounters: 0.3 per member per year
  • After-hours clinic visits: 18.7 per 1,000 members per year
  • Emergency department encounters: 11.2 per 1,000 members per year
  • Hospitalizations: 19.9 per 1,000 members per year

 

While the research shows an increase in patient visits among online access users, the study does not provide a conclusive explanation for this change. One possibility is that the ability to review their record online enabled patients to identify additional health concerns. Researchers also note that patients who elect to use the online access to electronic records are more likely to be more conscientious regarding their health than those who do not.

“Overall, our findings suggest that the relationship between online access and utilization is more complex than the simple substitution of online for in-person care suggested by earlier studies,” study authors say.