Background: Electronic patient portals may enhance effective interaction between the patient and the health care provider. To grasp the full potential of patient portals, health care providers need more knowledge on which patient groups prefer electronic services and how patients should be served through this channel.
Objective: The objective of this study was to assess how chronically ill patients' state of health, comorbidities, and previous care are associated with their adoption and use of a patient portal.
Methods: A total of 222 chronically ill patients, who were offered access to a patient portal with their health records and secure messaging with care professionals, were included in the study. Differences in the characteristics of non-users, viewers, and interactive users of the patient portal were analyzed before access to the portal. Patients' age, gender, diagnoses, levels of the relevant physiological measurements, health care contacts, and received physiological measurements were collected from the care provider's electronic health record. In addition, patient-reported health and patient activation were assessed by a survey.
Results: Despite the broad range of measures used to indicate the patients' state of health, the portal user groups differed only in their recorded diagnosis for hypertension, which was most common in the non-user group. However, there were significant differences in the amount of care received during the year before access to the portal. The non-user group had more nurse visits and more measurements of relevant physiological outcomes than viewers and interactive users. They also had fewer referrals to specialized care during the year before access to the portal than the two other groups. The viewers and the interactive users differed from each other significantly in the number of nurse calls received, the interactive users having more calls than the viewers. No significant differences in age, gender, or patient activation were detected between the user groups.
Conclusions: Previous care received by the patient is an important predictor for the use of a patient portal. In a group of patients with a similar disease burden, demand for different types of health services and preferences related to the service channel seem to contribute to the choice to use the patient portal. Further research on patient portal functionalities and their potential to meet patient needs by complementing or substituting for traditional health care services is suggested.
Keywords: chronic illness; patient portal; service channel; user profile.