Online patient portals provide improved access for patients to their health information. Many electronic health record vendors now come equipped with important administrative functions like online appointment scheduling. It not only improves access to healthcare but also promotes transparency in physician availability. It is therefore interesting that a recent study of more than 134,000 primary care visits now shows that most directly scheduled visits were done with the patient’s own primary care physician.

“Direct scheduling is intended to improve patient convenience while reducing administrative burden for practices,” wrote the researchers. “This offering may have additional benefits, especially in the primary care setting, such as promoting continuity with one’s usual primary care physician.”

“Conversely, direct scheduling might worsen disparities in access to care via the so-called digital divide,” they added.

The results, according to the study, suggest that direct scheduling could be a pivotal factor in continuity and access, which in turn are associated with better health outcomes and lower costs.

“We also found evidence that patients might find direct scheduling more convenient than usual scheduling: Most directly scheduled visits were scheduled during usual business hours, when patients could have called the office, yet chose to schedule online,” wrote the researchers.

A move towards patient portals and online scheduling applications is fiscally prudent for any healthcare organization especially considering that it also improves efficiency and engagement while lowering no-show rates. However, as the latest study notes, ‘the disproportionate use of direct scheduling by younger patients could “crowd out visit access” for older patients who may have historically decreased access to primary care.