KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Online Access To Colorado Docs Linked To More Office Visits

The assumption had always been that offering patients e-mail access to their doctors and records would reduce office visits, but a new study from Kaiser Permanente of Colorado showed the opposite. (Kaiser Health News is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.)

Kaiser Health News: Online Access To Docs Increases Office Visits, Study Finds
Uncle Sam wants you to e-mail your doctor. A federal law passed in 2009 says that physicians have to start offering their patients online communication, or Medicare will start docking how much it pays them in the future. Some patients hope that having online access to their doctors will mean they can cut down on how often they have to go to the doctor's office. But new research suggests that patients with online access actually schedule more office visits (Whitney, 11/21).

Medscape: Online Relationship Linked To More Office Visits
Health care futurists have viewed online communication between clinicians and patients as a welcome substitute for low-level office visits and telephone calls, lightening a clinician's load. In addition, some studies have found that virtual visits make a waiting room a little less crowded. However, a study published in the November 21 issue of JAMA showed that letting patients email their clinician and access their records online was associated with more, not fewer, telephone calls, office visits, and clinical services in general. In this case, the substitution theory did not hold (Lowes, 11/20).

Reuters: Online Medical Records May Not Improve Efficiency
People who had access to their medical records online also came into their doctor's office for more appointments and used the emergency room more often than those who didn't log on, in a new study from Colorado. One theory supporting online access to health records is that if patients can look up their test results and put in for prescription refills online, they'll make fewer unnecessary trips or calls to the office (Pittman, 11/20).

CNN: Online Access Associated With Uptick In Doctor Visits
Patient online access to doctors and medical records was associated with increased use of almost all in-person and telephone medical services, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Those services included doctor appointments, telephone consults, after-hours clinic visits, emergency room visits and hospitalizations. Dr. Ted Palen and his team looked at members of Kaiser Permanente Colorado, an integrated health system with more 500,000 members that includes an online patient portal known as MyHealthManager (MHM). Palen and his team are all affiliated with Kaiser Permanente Colorado. They set out to learn more about the use of electronic medical records and their association to the amount of health care services patients use when they have online access to their health care (Hagan, 11/20).

Modern Healthcare: Patients' E-Records Access Tied With Increased Health Care Use: Study
Patient use of Web-based electronic health-record system portals has been linked to increased use of clinical services, including higher rates of office visits and telephone calls to providers, a study of patients at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado suggests. Results of the study are set to be published in an article, "Patients with Online Access to Clinicians, Medical Records Have Increased Use of Clinical Services," in the Nov. 21 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study looked at health care services by nearly 89,000 patients enrolled for at least 24 months with the integrated delivery network from March 2005 through June 2010 (Conn, 11/20).

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