DALLAS – May 06, 2024 – More people are using online patient portals to view their information while in the emergency room, but access is challenging for members of medically underserved communities and the elderly, UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers and national colleagues found in a new study.

“Patient portals such as Epic’s MyChart have grown in popularity in recent years, but they are still often seen as a tool for ambulatory chronic disease management,” said Robert Turer, M.D., Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at UT Southwestern and the study’s corresponding author. “Our research suggests portals can be an asset in emergency medicine too, both to help patients with exacerbations of chronic conditions and to support those experiencing acute illness during and after the emergency department (ED) visit.”

The research, published in JAMA Network Open, studied patient data from 36 teaching and community EDs affiliated with eight academic medical centers in seven states over the year ending in April 2022. Researchers found that 17.4% of the 1,280,924 adults who visited participating EDs logged into their patient portals to view test results or read clinical notes while at the hospital, and participation increased as the study progressed.

The research also found that most portal users were white, insured, and English-speaking and had portal accounts before arriving at the emergency room. Patients who were male or Black or had no insurance logged in at lower rates, as did older patients.

“Emergency departments often serve as a safety net for patients without an ongoing relationship with a health care provider, so they have no patient portal account,” Dr. Turer said. “Or, in many cases, there is a lack of familiarity with technology – which is especially true with older patients. There is a tremendous opportunity for EDs to help bridge this gap by supporting and aiding enrollment and educating patients on the portal’s key functions, using patient navigators or registration staff.”

The study – the largest and most representative evaluation of real-time portal use among ED patients in the U.S. – builds on earlier single-site research at UT Southwestern that had similar results. 

“Our findings in both studies support the need for further research to help us better understand portal features that are most useful within the ED,” Dr. Turer said. “For example, status updates, point-of-care education, and coordination of follow-up appointments are potential solutions to explore.” 

UTSW researchers who contributed to the study are Samuel McDonald, M.D., Associate Professor and Assistant Chief Medical Information Officer for Emergency Medicine, and Bhaskar Thakur, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine, Emergency Medicine, and Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation and in the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health. Drs. Turer and McDonald are also members of the UTSW Clinical Informatics Center.

About UT Southwestern Medical Center  

UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty members have received six Nobel Prizes and include 25 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 21 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 13 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 3,100 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 120,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 5 million outpatient visits a year.

Journal Link: JAMA Network Open