The use of MyChart — the UT Southwestern Medical Center online interactive service that allows patients to view both laboratory and radiology results, communicate with their healthcare providers, schedule appointments and renew prescriptions — has increased sharply among cancer patients.
In the past six years, there has been a five-fold increase in the number of patients actively using MyChart, and the total number of logins increased more than 10-fold each year, according to a study conducted by Dr. David Gerber, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, and Dr. Simon J. Craddock Lee, Assistant Professor of Clinical Sciences.
“This pattern suggests that not only are far more patients using this technology, but also that they are using it more intensively,” Dr. Gerber said.
Findings of this study, which were published in the Journal of Oncology Practice, are important because, although use of this technology is surging nationwide, creating a new ground in clinical care and doctor-patient relationships, this is the first study to systematically examine the use of electronic patient portals by patients with cancer.
The increase in the use of MyChart reflects the convenience and user-friendly features perceived by patients.
Darla Robinson is a 75-year-old Arlington resident with lung cancer. She said she finds MyChart useful to follow up on her appointments with Dr. Gerber and other UT Southwestern doctors. Her husband, Jim, navigates the MyChart pages and types the messages she needs to send to her doctors.
“It’s very efficient for finding your appointments and any information about your tests after you see the doctor,” she said. “It’s no hassle. It’s user friendly.”
The Department of Health and Human Services began allocating the $27 billion that had been allotted by Congress in 2009 to support adoption of Electronic Medical Records funding in 2011. UT Southwestern had started offering these services years earlier.
“UT Southwestern made MyChart available for cancer patients in 2007 and, wow, do they use it. Many patients use it, and they use it frequently, with the majority of those patients being over 60,” said Dr. Lee, stressing that those patients are different from the typically younger non-patient population, who use the internet more heavily than the rest of the general population.
Dr. Lee, who is a medical anthropologist, said the study will be used as a baseline in order to learn more about ways in which doctor-patient relationships may improve through increased “meaningful use” of health care technologies, of which the Electronic Medical Record is an example.
The study included nearly 6,500 patients at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center who enrolled in MyChart from 2007 to 2012.
“I was struck by the immediacy of the uptake and the volume of use,” Dr. 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.”
According to the study, MyChart was used mostly by cancer patients, as opposed to other patient groups, with the exception of children with life threatening medical conditions.
“We undertook this study because we suspected that the volume of electronic portal use might be greater among patients with cancer than in other populations,” Dr. Gerber said.
Although there wasn’t a direct comparison of use patterns with non-cancer groups, the average use in the study was four to eight times greater than has been previously reported in primary care, pediatric, surgical subspecialty, and other populations.
Patient use of electronic portals to receive and convey information, as Dr. Gerber explained, may have specific implications in cancer care. Laboratory and radiology results, for example, may be more likely to portray disease progression, as well as other significant clinical findings.
“I think we are still learning how patients understand and use the complex medical data, such as scan reports, that they increasingly receive first-hand electronically,” Dr. Gerber said.
Moreover, symptoms reported by patients with cancer may be more likely to represent medical urgencies. A remarkable finding of the study is that 30 percent of medical advice requests from patients were asked after clinic hours.
Dr. Andrew Laccetti, Department of Internal Medicine; Dr. Yang Xie, Beibei Chen and Jingsheng Yan, Department of Clinical Sciences; Samantha Gates, Information Resources; and Jennifer Cai, Academic Information Systems, all from UT Southwestern, were also among the investigators involved in the research.
One of a mere 66 cancer centers in the nation designated by the National Cancer Institute, The Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in North Texas. While fostering groundbreaking basic research with the potential to improve patient care and prevention of cancer worldwide, it brings innovative cancer care to the region.