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Student Health Services distributes flu shots to Penn Students. Credit: Alex Neier

A recent Penn Medicine study found that patients who use online patient portals are more likely to engage in preventive healthcare behaviors, reported Penn Medicine News.

The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, showed that patients who use online portals are twice as likely to have their blood pressure checked, and 50% more likely to get a flu shot and get their cholesterol checked.

MyPennMedicine, the online patient portal offered by Penn Medicine, gives users access to services such as appointment management, access to medical information, and a way to contact providers.

Kevin Mahoney, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System and senior author of the study, said preventive healthcare measures are important in reducing the prevalence of chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

“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,” Mahoney told Penn Med News.

The research for the study was based on data from 10,000 patients, aged 50 years or older, from the University of Pennsylvania Health System. As online patient portals have become more widely used, the researchers aimed to determine if there is a correlation between using these online resources and using preventative healthcare measures. 

No significant relationship was found between portal use and effects on chronic illness prevalence, Penn Medicine News reported.

The research, however, did show discrepancies in online patient portal usage between different demographic constituencies. Online portal users are more likely to be Caucasian and have commercial insurance compared to the group of non-users. Portal users tend to be younger and have higher incomes compared to their counterparts who have not registered for the portal.

Jing Huang, the lead author of the study and a professor of biostatistics, noted equity issues shown by this data. 

“We did see some health care access issues,” Huang told Penn Med News. “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.”

The team hopes to further study the relationship between online patient portals and chronic illness, as the current study took into account only two years of data.

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