Background: Personal health records (PHRs) have the potential to improve patient self-management for chronic conditions such as diabetes. However, evidence is mixed as to whether there is an association between PHR use and improved health outcomes.
Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the association between sustained use of specific patient portal features (Web-based prescription refill and secure messaging-SM) and physiological measures important for the management of type 2 diabetes.
Methods: Using a retrospective cohort design, including Veterans with diabetes registered for the My Health e Vet patient portal who had not yet used the Web-based refill or SM features and who had at least one physiological measure (HbA1c, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, blood pressure) in 2009-2010 (baseline) that was above guideline recommendations (N=111,686), we assessed portal use between 2010 and 2014. We calculated the odds of achieving control of each measure by 2013 to 2014 (follow-up) by years of using each portal feature, adjusting for demographic and clinical characteristics associated with portal use.
Results: By 2013 to 2014, 34.13% (38,113/111,686) of the cohort was using Web-based refills, and 15.75% (17,592/111,686) of the cohort was using SM. Users were slightly younger (P<.001), less likely to be eligible for free care based on economic means (P<.001), and more likely to be women (P<.001). In models adjusting for both features, patients with uncontrolled HbA1c at baseline who used SM were significantly more likely than nonusers to achieve glycemic control by follow-up if they used SM for 2 years (odds ratio-OR=1.24, CI: 1.14-1.34) or 3 or more years (OR=1.28, CI: 1.12-1.45). However, there was no significant association between Web-based refill use and glycemic control. Those with uncontrolled blood pressure at baseline who used Web-based refills were significantly more likely than nonusers to achieve control at follow-up with 2 (OR=1.07, CI: 1.01-1.13) or 3 (OR=1.08, CI: 1.02-1.14) more years of Web-based refill use. Both features were significantly associated with improvements in LDL cholesterol levels at follow-up.
Conclusions: Although rates of use of the refill function were higher within the population, sustained SM use had a greater impact on HbA1c. Evaluations of patient portals should consider that individual components may have differential effects on health improvements.
Keywords: HbA1c; blood pressure; cholesterol, LDL; diabetes mellitus, type 2; personal health records; self care; veterans.