Study: Patients often unaware of, unimpressed with portals

Patient engagement via portals may be a major focus of Stage 2 of Meaningful Use, but patients are slow to use the tools and are often frustrated with them, according to a new study from EHR selection site Software Advice.

While the survey's methodology is questionable--the company conducted a three-day online survey and obtained 1,540 responses from random consumers--it found that despite the requirement that providers need to electronically communicate with at least five percent of patients to meet Meaningful Use, only one-third of respondents currently have access to their physicians' portal; the other two-thirds either didn't have access or didn't know whether they did.   

"The fact that 33 percent of patients are unsure if they have access to a portal is problematic, and indicates that providers who do offer portals need to do a much better job communicating both their availability to patients," the study warns.

The survey also revealed that patients didn't necessarily like using the portals. Thirty-four percent of respondents reported that they found staff, including their physicians, unresponsive, and 33 percent found the interfaces difficult to use. They also didn't like automatic emails and the use of medical jargon.

The survey additionally found that patients' interests in what they wanted from a portal differed by age and gender.

The survey recommended that to increase the success of a portal, providers should align the portal's features with the practice's current and future patient demographics and test it themselves to check for usability.

The results mirror those of other recent studies that found patients often didn't know whether their physicians offered portals, indicating a communication breakdown between providers and their patients. Even most veterans, who have long been able to access their records via the MyHealtheVet portal, don't bother to take advantage of this resource.    

To learn more:
- here's the study

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