Care Partner Engagement in Secure Messaging Between Patients With Diabetes and Their Clinicians: Cohort Study

JMIR Diabetes. 2024 Feb 9:9:e49491. doi: 10.2196/49491.


Background: Patient engagement with secure messaging (SM) via digital patient portals has been associated with improved diabetes outcomes, including increased patient satisfaction and better glycemic control. Yet, disparities in SM uptake exist among older patients and racial and ethnic underserved groups. Care partners (family members or friends) may provide a means for mitigating these disparities; however, it remains unclear whether and to what extent care partners might enhance SM use.

Objective: We aim to examine whether SM use differs among older patients with diabetes based on the involvement of care partner proxies.

Methods: This is a substudy of the ECLIPPSE (Employing Computational Linguistics to Improve Patient-Provider Secure Emails) project, a cohort study taking place in a large, fully integrated health care delivery system with an established digital patient portal serving over 4 million patients. Participants included patients with type 2 diabetes aged ≥50 years, newly registered on the patient portal, who sent ≥1 English-language message to their clinician between July 1, 2006, and December 31, 2015. Proxy SM was identified by having a registered proxy. To identify nonregistered proxies, a computational linguistics algorithm was applied to detect words and phrases more likely to appear in proxy messages compared to patient-authored messages. The primary outcome was the annual volume of secure messages (sent or received); secondary outcomes were the length of time to the first SM sent by patient or proxy and the number of annual SM exchanges (unique message topics generating ≥1 reply).

Results: The mean age of the cohort (N=7659) at this study's start was 61 (SD 7.16) years; 75% (n=5573) were married, 15% (n=1089) identified as Black, 10% (n=747) Chinese, 12% (n=905) Filipino, 13% (n=999) Latino, and 30% (n=2225) White. Further, 49% (n=3782) of patients used a proxy to some extent. Compared to nonproxy users, proxy users were older (P<.001), had lower educational attainment (P<.001), and had more comorbidities (P<.001). Adjusting for patient sociodemographic and clinical characteristics, proxy users had greater annual SM volume (20.7, 95% CI 20.2-21.2 vs 10.9, 95% CI 10.7-11.2; P<.001), shorter time to SM initiation (hazard ratio vs nonusers: 1.30, 95% CI 1.24-1.37; P<.001), and more annual SM exchanges (6.0, 95% CI 5.8-6.1 vs 2.9, 95% CI 2.9-3.0, P<.001). Differences in SM engagement by proxy status were similar across patient levels of education, and racial and ethnic groups.

Conclusions: Among a cohort of older patients with diabetes, proxy SM involvement was independently associated with earlier initiation and increased intensity of messaging, although it did not appear to mitigate existing disparities in SM. These findings suggest care partners can enhance patient-clinician telecommunication in diabetes care. Future studies should examine the effect of care partners' SM involvement on diabetes-related quality of care and clinical outcomes.

Keywords: caregivers; clinical care; diabetes; diabetes outcomes; family care; messaging; patient portal; secure messaging; telehealth.