While we wish that the results were more conclusive and positive, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) applauds the meta-analysis and the recent upswing in articles on patient portals and other patient-facing technologies. The number of patients and caregivers who desire greater participation and transparency in their healthcare makes continued research in this area vital. Yet, in a close read of the full Annals of Internal Medicine meta-analysis article and in many of the studies it cites, there were unquestionably statistically significant positive clinical outcomes, as well as positive patient experiences, associated with certain patient portal functions.
The ONC does not believe that Health IT alone is a panacea, or that meeting the form of Meaningful Use , while not embracing the new functions the technologies it enables, is likely to result in measurable improvements. The study authors caution that it was case management that tipped the utility of portals from unclear or small to more substantial, but it is important to note that the case management activities happened via the portal itself. This is a perfect example of Health IT as an enabler of new ways of reaching and caring for patients; we would not separate the two concepts.
To the study’s described limitations, we offer two significant additions. First, the definition of a patient portal remains loosely specified, so it is difficult to make conclusive statements about the entire category. The meta-analysis did attempt to list which functions were present for each study, but half of the studies that looked at patient outcomes gave only a partial description of portal features, and a deeper assessment of the quality of functions and their relevance to the outcomes measured was not present for any study.
Second, more than 10% of these studies are ten years old, and over a third were published five or more years ago. We understand the necessity of adequate numbers for meta-analyses, but statistical significance does not necessarily confer relevant insights. Technology, and patient preferences and capabilities for using technology have fundamentally changed over the study time periods included, not to mention the maturation among health-care organizations themselves and the expectations of patients.