Online Access To Patient Health Information Boosts Use Of Clinical Services, Study Shows

Take Charge! How The Internet Could Impact Your Health

A new study is quelling any fears that online interaction with doctors -- whether it involves the ability to look up test results online, ask doctors question via email, or otherwise -- means the demise of face-to-face patient-doctor interaction.

A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that people who are able to access their medical information online and communicate with their doctors via email are more likely to also visit their doctors and talk to them on the phone.

Researchers from the Institute for Health Research at Kaiser Permanente Colorado looked at the health services used by adults who had been enrolled for at least two years in the Kaiser Permanente Colorado group health care system between 2005 and 2010. Researchers looked specifically at how much the adults used the My Health Manager system, which is a platform where users can access their health information online.

Usage of My Health Manager increased from 2007 to 2009, from about 25 percent to 54 percent, at which point there were 375,620 people were taking advantage of the online patient services, researchers found.

The researchers noted a rise in clinical services linked with usage of the My Health Manager system. Specifically, in the year after the My Health Manager service was activated, they found that people who used it were more likely to go in to visit the doctor's office, have phone conversations with their doctors, visit after-hours clinics, visit the emergency department and go to the hospital.

Researchers speculated that this increase in usage of clinical services might be from "additional health concerns identified through online access," they wrote in the study.

Or, "members might have activated their online access in anticipation of health needs. Members who are already more likely to use services may selectively sign up for online access and then use this technology to gain even more frequent access rather than view it as a substitute for contact with the health care system.”

The study comes on the heels of another finding, published last year in the journal Health Affairs, showing that 69 percent of primary care doctors in the U.S. used electronic medical records this year, compared with 46 percent who used them in 2009. The findings are based on results from the 2012 Commonwealth Fund International Health Policy Survey.

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