Online Patient Portals for Screening Mammograms May Widen Health Disparities

This study discloses the characteristics of patients using self-scheduled online patient portal screening mammography.

A study presented at the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) 2021 Annual Meeting found that racial ethnic minorities, and patients with low socioeconomic status, lower access to broadband internet or limited English proficiency were less likely to use a patient-portal self-scheduling pathway for screening mammograms.

“Understanding the factors associated with patient use of technology and patient portals for access to care can guide interventions to bridge the existing digital divide and promote health equity in radiology,” the authors wrote.

The results were presented by Patricia Balthazar, M.D., assistant professor of abdominal radiology and imaging informatics at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

While patient portals can increase patient access and engagement, they can create potential barriers to care. In this study, the researchers aimed to identify potential sociodemographic disparities in the use of an online patient portal to self-schedule screening mammograms compared with traditional scheduling pathway, such as a scheduler phone call and referral system. The researchers hypothesized that patients with limited English proficiency or low socioeconomic status, along with racial/ethnic minorities would be less likely to use the online self-scheduling pathway.

This retrospective cohort study included 46,268 female patients undergoing screening mammograms from Jan. 1, 2019, to Dec. 31, 2019, at an urban quaternary-care academic medical center. The following data were extracted: patient scheduling pathway, age, language, race, health insurance provider and zip code, with the latter linked to Census data to extract the following demographic information: internet access, median household income and education level.

Of the patients, 0.7% used the online self-scheduling pathway. Those using the self-scheduling pathway had higher odds of being younger (OR for age in year: 0.94; 95% CI: 0.93-0.96), English-speakers (95% CI: 21.6, 3.0-156.5), White (95% CI: 1.7, 1.2-2.5), have private insurance (95% CI: 1.5, 1.0-2.1) and to live in zip code areas with higher percentage of access to broadband internet (95% CI: 1.2, 1.1-1.3).

Unlike racial ethnic minorities, patients with low socioeconomic status, lower access to broadband internet and limited English proficiency, “patients living in zip code areas with higher median household income, education level or with any type of internet access were not significantly associated with the online self-scheduling pathway,” the authors wrote.

For more coverage of RSNA 2021, click here.