Portal Message Language Use Prior to Suicide, Suicide Attempts, and Hospitalization for Depression

Michelle J. Duvall, Nathaniel E. Miller, Frederick North, William B. Leasure, Jennifer L. Pecina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Previous research suggests patients may be willing to communicate serious psychiatric concerns through patient portals. Methods: Retrospective chart review of portal messages sent by patients who had an emergency department (ED) visit or hospitalization for depression, self-harm, or suicidality or had a completed suicide (cases) was reviewed for content that was suggestive of depression or self-harm and language indicating emotional distress. Comparison with a randomly selected group (controls) was performed. Results: During the study period 420 messages were sent by 149 patients within 30 days of death by suicide, ED visit, and/or hospitalization related to depression, suicidality, or suicide attempt. Thirteen patients died by suicide but only 23% (3 of 13) sent one or more portal messages within 30 days before their death. None mentioned thoughts of self-harm. There were 271 messages sent by patients who were hospitalized, 142 messages by those who presented to the ED, and 56 messages patients who attempted suicide. Patient messages from cases were more likely than messages from controls to convey a depressed mood (17.1% vs. 3.1%, odds ratio 6.5; 95% confidence interval 3.6-11.9, p < 0.0001), thoughts of suicide or self-harm (4.8% vs. 0% p < 0.0001), or have a distressed tone (24.0% vs. 1.7%, odds ratio 18.7; 95% confidence interval 8.6-41, p < 0.0001). Conclusions: Patient portal messages from patients with subsequent hospitalizations for depression and suicidality do report thoughts of depression, distress, and thoughts of self-harm. However, portal use before completed suicide was not helpful at identifying at-risk patients although total numbers were small.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1143-1150
Number of pages8
JournalTelemedicine and e-Health
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 1 2022


  • depression
  • electronic medical record
  • patient portal
  • portal messaging
  • secure message
  • suicide
  • suicide attempt
  • telemedicine
  • telepsychiatry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Health Information Management


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