Patients with diabetes who used an online patient portal to refill medications increased their medication adherence and improved their cholesterol levels, according to a new study in the journal Medical Care.
Online patient portals allow users to perform tasks such as scheduling appointments, accessing their health records, viewing their lab test results and emailing their care providers in addition to ordering prescription refills.
The National Institute of Health funded researchers from Kaiser Permanente and the University of California, San Francisco Medical School to follow 17,760 patients with diabetes who received care from Kaiser Permanente in Northern California between January 2006 and December 2010.
Medication non-adherence and poorly controlled cholesterol declined by 6 percent among exclusive users of the online refill function compared to the occasional or non-users.
In this large sample of diabetes patients, the average age was 62, and 40 percent were non-white minorities. The diabetes patients studied had an average of more than six chronically used medications and 11 outpatient visits per year.
"Medication adherence and other health behaviors are often the hardest things for health care providers to influence,” said senior author Andrew J. Karter, PhD, research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. “Our study showed that when patients used online prescription refills, it can improve adherence and health outcomes. On top of those benefits, we know that online refill systems increase the efficiency of pharmacy operations and provide more convenience for patients.”
All patients were registered users of Kaiser Permanente’s personal health record, My Health Manager, and had been prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications. The study subjects were divided into three groups based on their use of the portal to order refills of their cholesterol-lowering medications: the control group included those who never used the online refill function; “occasional users,” who requested medication refills through the Kaiser Permanente patient portal at least once (but not always); and “exclusive users” who requested all of their refills through the patient portal. The cholesterol-lowering medications studied are widely prescribed for patients with diabetes.
"This research is an important step in understanding the benefits of portals beyond convenience,” said lead author Urmimala Sarkar, MD, an assistant professor at University of California San Francisco. “Given the clear connection between medication adherence and improved health outcomes, this study provides insight into how online portals may improve health outcomes.”
Internet-based patient portals, as well as the use of electronic medical records, are becoming increasingly important to health care delivery. The current study provides new evidence that patient portals may help patients adhere to their medications and achieve improved health outcomes.
This study is part of a body of research to better understand how Kaiser Permanente’s online patient portals can improve care. Earlier this year Kaiser Permanente researchers reported that the use of electronic health records in clinical settings was associated with a decrease in emergency room visits and hospitalizations for patients with diabetes.
Kaiser Permanente offers an ideal laboratory to study the impact of information technology in the health sector because it has the largest private electronic health record system in the world. Kaiser Permanente HealthConnect® securely links data for 9.1 million patients and 16,000 physicians in more than 600 medical offices and 38 hospitals. This system provides Kaiser Permanente’s research scientists with access to the most extensive collections of longitudinal medical data available, facilitating studies and important medical discoveries that shape the future of health and care delivery for patients and the medical community.
Additional authors included on the study are Courtney R. Lyles, PhD, and Dean Schillinger, MD, of the UCSF Division of General Internal Medicine, San Francisco General Hospital; Melissa M. Parker MPH, and Howard H. Moffet, MPH, of the Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente Northern California; and Jill Allen PhD, and Robert Nguyen MA, of the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Internet Services Group.
The National Institutes of Health (R01-DK080726, R01-DK081796) funded this research.