Background: Modern information technology is changing and provides new challenges to health care. The emergence of the Internet and the electronic health record (EHR) has brought new opportunities for patients to play a more active role in his/her care. Although in many countries patients have the right to access their clinical information, access to clinical records electronically is not common. Patient portals consist of provider-tethered applications that allow patients to electronically access health information that are documented and managed by a health care institution. Although patient portals are already being implemented, it is still unclear in which ways these technologies can influence patient care.
Objective: To systematically review the available evidence on the impact of electronic patient portals on patient care.
Methods: A systematic search was conducted using PubMed and other sources to identify controlled experimental or quasi-experimental studies on the impact of patient portals that were published between 1990 and 2011. A total of 1,306 references from all the publication hits were screened, and 13 papers were retrieved for full text analysis.
Results: We identified 5 papers presenting 4 distinct studies. There were no statistically significant changes between intervention and control group in the 2 randomized controlled trials investigating the effect of patient portals on health outcomes. Significant changes in the patient portal group, compared to a control group, could be observed for the following parameters: quicker decrease in office visit rates and slower increase in telephone contacts; increase in number of messages sent; changes of the medication regimen; and better adherence to treatment.
Conclusions: The number of available controlled studies with regard to patient portals is low. Even when patient portals are often discussed as a way to empower patients and improve quality of care, there is insufficient evidence to support this assumption.