Cancer Patients Embrace Web Portals to Access Health Information


As the use of electronic patient portals grows, a new study examines the use of these portals by cancer patients, extending the doctor-patient relationship to new boundaries.

As the use of electronic patient portals grows, a new study examines the use of these portals by cancer patients, extending the doctor-patient relationship to new boundaries. The web-based interactive services typically allow patients to view laboratory and radiology results, communicate with their healthcare providers, schedule appointments, and renew prescriptions.

The study, published in the Journal of Oncology Practice, shows that over a 6-year period, the number of patients actively using MyChart each year increased five-fold, while the number of total logins each year increased more than 10-fold, according to David Gerber, MD, associate professor of internal medicine and Simon J. Craddock Lee, MD, assistant professor of clinical sciences, both from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. MyChart is an electronic portal used for routine communication with the physician’s clinic, but is not intended to replace office visits.

"Many patients use it [MyChart], and they use it frequently, with the majority of those patients being over 60," said Lee, pointing out that those patients are different from the non-patient demographic, who are typically younger and use the internet more heavily than the rest of the general population.

The authors note that the use of MyChart was greater among cancer patients than other patient groups, except for children with life threatening medical conditions. While the study did not directly compare use patterns with non-cancer groups, the average use in the current study was four to eight times greater than has been reported previously in primary care, pediatric, surgical subspecialty, and other populations.

Nearly 6,500 patients at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center enrolled in MyChart from 2007 to 2012 and were included in the study. “I was struck by the immediacy of the uptake and the volume of use,” Gerber said. “I suspected that the volume would be high. I did not think that it was going to be multi-fold higher than other patient populations.”

Gerber explained that patient use of electronic portals to receive and convey information may have particular implications in cancer care. Laboratory and radiology results may be more likely to represent significant clinical findings, such as disease progression.

The symptoms reported by patients with cancer may be more likely to represent medical urgencies. Notably, the study found that 30 percent of medical advice requests from patients were sent after clinic hours.

In general, patients have embraced the use of electronic portals because of their convenience—it’s easy for patients to check for missing or inaccurate information in their medical records, schedule medical appointments, or order prescription refills with a few clicks of a mouse.

Lee, a medical anthropologist, said he will use the study as a baseline to inform his efforts to learn more about how doctor-patient relationships may be changed through increased meaningful use of health care technologies, such as the electronic medical record.

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