Health professionals should push for better portal usability

Patient portal use in the healthcare industry has the potential to reduce disparities in care for minority groups and people with lower health literacy; however, that promise has yet to be realized, according to a paper at PLOS Medicine.

Portals can lower barriers by creating better ways for patients and providers to communicate and by expanding access to medical record information, according to authors Courtney Lyles , Dean Schillinger and Urmimala Sarkar, who work in the Division of General Internal Medicine at San Francisco General Hospital.

One major barrier for minorities and those with a low health literacy level when it comes to the portals is usability, according to the authors. Such challenges include getting the required access to the site and comprehension of the information available. Materials provided to patients in the portals also are not often written at a lower literacy level or available in many languages, the authors write.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association also found substantial differences in the acceptance and use of online patient portals by different consumer groups, which may exacerbate health disparities among them and have a downstream impact on care, FierceEMR previously reported.

To solve this problem, medical professionals should push for better usability of portals from design to implementation, according to the authors. Also, when purchasing electronic health record software, healthcare entities should purchases products that have patient-facing portals, where language and literacy are not "added-on" or "extra" features.

In addition, government groups like the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT should also look at how easy portals are to use and access, as well as fund usability testing in diverse populations, the authors add.

Portals also have issues with privacy and autonomy, which indicate that full access by proxy may not be the best approach, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. The researchers noted that control of information sharing and decision making should be more fluid and that the study had importance implications for portal design, such as more role-based access rather than full access by proxy.

To learn more:
- here's the paper