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October 09, 2019

Patients who use online portals to access health records more likely to get flu shots, Penn study finds

Adult Health Flu
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Flu shot being administered.

Patients who interact with doctors and receive information about their health records through online portals are 50% more likely to receive a flu shot than those who don't, according to new research from of Penn Medicine.

In a recently published study, the team at Penn showed that use of online portals also increases the likelihood that patients will have their blood pressure and cholesterol checked.

The widespread use of online portals in health care, which are tied to electronic records, has become a standard for medical practices and institutions in order to speed communication and encourage preventive health behaviors.

"Chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease and hypertension affect more than half of the adults in the United States, and primary prevention — through screenings and monitoring — is considered one of the best strategies for reducing the prevalence of these conditions,” said Kevin Mahoney, senior author of the study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. “This is the first study to find a meaningful connection between patient portal use and health behaviors, which could have a tremendous impact on patients’ health.”

The study looked at a group of 10,000 patients from the University of Pennsylvania Health System who were 50 years or older. During a two-year period, about 59% had registered on the MyPennMedicine portal, which qualified them as "users" for the purposes of the study.

Researchers found that younger patients tended to use the portal more frequently. Also people who used the portal had a higher average income than those who didn't. Caucasian patients also were better represented in the user category than the non-user category.

“As we looked at the data, we did see some health care access issues,” said biostatistician and lead author Jing Huang. “There is substantial work that still needs to be done in order to get more patients — and patients from a wider range of populations —to use these kinds of online health care services."

In the future, Penn Medicine plans to evaluate how the use of web portals affects outcomes with chronic health conditions.

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