Background: Patient portal use has been associated with favorable outcomes, but we know less about how patients use and benefit from specific patient portal features.
Objective: Using mixed-methods, we explored how adults with type 2 diabetes (T2DM) use and benefit from secure messaging (SM) within a patient portal.
Methods: Adults with T2DM who had used a patient portal participated in a focus group and completed a survey (n=39) or completed a survey only (n=15). We performed thematic analysis of focus group transcripts to identify the benefits of and barriers to using SM within a portal. We also examined the association between use of various patient portal features and patients' glycemic control.
Results: Participants were on average 57.1 years old; 65% were female; 76% were Caucasian/White, and 20% were African American/Black. Self-reported benefits of SM within a portal included enhanced patient satisfaction, enhanced efficiency and quality of face-to-face visits, and access to clinical care outside traditional face-to-face visits. Self-reported barriers to using SM within a portal included preconceived beliefs or rules about SM and prior negative experiences with SM. Participants' assumptions about providers' opinions about SM and providers' instructions about SM also influenced use. Greater self-reported use of SM to manage a medical appointment was significantly associated with patients' glycemic control (ρ=-0.29, p=0.04).
Conclusion: SM within a portal may facilitate access to care, enhance the quality of office visits, and be associated with patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes for patients with diabetes, but provider communication about SM is essential.