Physician groups and hospitals have come to rely on electronic patient portals (EPPs) for many things, including appointment scheduling and reminders, delivery of test results, and pre- and post-visit information gathering from patients. Most of the research into the clinical efficacy and cost-effectiveness of EPPs has taken place in primary care and internal medicine settings. But in the August 5, 2020 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Varady et al. examine the benefits of EPP use among patients undergoing orthopaedic procedures of various types. In the process, they also uncover racial and socioeconomic disparities in the use of EPPs.
The retrospective review of >18,000 patients (average age of 56.9 years) undergoing an orthopaedic procedure at 2 Boston-area academic hospitals found a veritable 50-50 split between those who used the EPP and those who did not. Relative to white patients, African-American and Hispanic patients were significantly less likely to use the EPP. Other demographic factors associated with portal nonuse were non-English speaking, male sex, low income, and having less than a college education.
Multivariable regression analysis demonstrated that, relative to EPP nonuse, EPP use was associated with significantly lower no-show rates, increased odds of completing one or more patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs), and improved overall patient satisfaction. The degree of after-surgery functional improvements measured with PROMs was the same among EPP users and nonusers.
The authors home in on the benefits of the 27% reduction in missed appointments this study divulged. First and foremost, missed appointments have been shown to negatively affect patient outcomes. On the provider side, no-shows increase staff frustration and cost time and money. (The 2 hospitals realized a combined estimated $200,000 in savings over 1 year from the reduction in no-shows.) Consequently, Varady et al. say that “the benefit of reducing missed appointments alone may be sufficiently strong to warrant efforts to increase EPP enrollment.”
Increased efforts among orthopaedic office staff and clinicians to enroll patients in portal usage during their hospital stay or during pre- or postoperative visits could also help address the disparity issue. “These results have important implications for the orthopaedic surgery community in…achieving more equitable care,” the authors conclude.