Patient-Provider Communication: Does Electronic Messaging Reduce Incoming Telephone Calls?

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Abstract

Purpose:

Internet-based patient portals are increasingly being implemented throughout health care organizations to enhance health and optimize communication between patients and health professionals. The decision to adopt a patient portal requires careful examination of the advantages and disadvantages of implementation. This study aims to investigate 1 proposed advantage of implementation: alleviating some of the clinical workload faced by employees.

Methods:

A retrospective time-series analysis of the correlation between the rate of electronic patient-to-provider messages—a common attribute of Internet-based patient portals—and incoming telephone calls. The rate of electronic messages and incoming telephone calls were monitored from February 2009 to June 2014 at 4 economically diverse clinics (a federally qualified health center, a rural health clinic, a community-based clinic, and a university-based clinic) related to 1 university hospital.

Results:

All 4 clinics showed an increase in the rate of portal use as measured by electronic patient-to-provider messaging during the study period. Electronic patient-to-provider messaging was significantly positively correlated with incoming telephone calls at 2 of the clinics (r= 0.546,P< .001 andr= 0.543,P< .001). The remaining clinics were not significantly correlated but demonstrated a weak positive correlation (r= 0.098,P= .560 andr= 0.069,P= .671).

Conclusions:

Implementation and increased use of electronic patient-to-provider messaging was associated with increased use of telephone calls in 2 of the study clinics. While practices are increasingly making the decision of whether to implement a patient portal as part of their system of care, it is important that the motivation behind such a change not be based on the idea that it will alleviate clinical workload.

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