Personal, technical support may be key to increasing portal use by African Americans, Latinos

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Many African Americans and Latinos may be avoiding patient portals because they view them as hard to use and don’t want to lose out on face-to-face, personal time with their providers, a new study finds.

Patient access and use of portals are linked to better satisfaction and outcomes. However, it has become apparent that non-Hispanic whites use patient portals more often, leading to a potential digital divide and increase in health disparities. The researchers, from Kaiser Permanente and the University of California, San Francisco, sought to understand the specific barriers to portal use among African American and Latino patients; their work was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

A total of 10 focus groups were held that included 87 Kaiser Permanente African American or Latino members from the Mid-Atlantic, Georgia and southern California who were not registered for Kaiser’s portal. All of the participants were current internet users.

Several primary barriers to use of the portal were identified by the participants, including:

  • Concern that the use of online tools would diminish the patients’ personal relationships with their healthcare provider. They were skeptical that the portals would support the relationship.
  • A preference for in-person communication, particularly because they were concerned that they would not comprehend information as well via a portal.
  • The Portals were not sufficiently easy to navigate; they wanted more technical assistance for registration and use
  • The portal content was often too complex to understand.

While these concerns crossed both groups, African American participants appeared more concerned with the privacy and security of their information; Latino respondents were more apt to prefer use of a mobile phone application to access the tool.

“As the United States continues to shift toward patient engagement and patient-centered care, it is critical to ensure that health technologies like portals are usable for all patient groups," the researchers said. "As healthcare systems move to collecting and sending more electronic data to and from patients, it is critical that this process addresses broad barriers to use and reduces the possibilities of exacerbating existing health care disparities."