Online communication tool empowers patients

Online dialogue between healthcare providers and patients can help to educate patients and make them more satisfied, researchers publishing a small provisional study this week in BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making concluded.

The researchers, based in Denmark, created a health informatics tool--The Online Patient Book--to enable asynchronous, written online communication between healthcare professionals and their patients: men with prostate cancer treated with surgery in a short-stay hospital setting. The patients would use the tool to write messages to their providers, and were promised a response within 24 hours. Evaluation of the tool ran from June 2010 to September 2010.

Overall, 33 out of 34 patients who used the tool considered their experience a positive one, with one patient giving a neutral evaluation of the tool. They indicated that the tool gave them a sense of freedom and a "feeling of security," knowing they could get their providers' attention as necessary, while not being tied down to any particular time or place to meet.

Patient users especially benefited from the "calmness" of asynchronous communication, the researchers said. "The patient users could both take as long as they needed to ask the 'right' question, but also do so without feeling the stress in relation to taking someone's time. The patients stay in control and feel they are competent and so become empowered partners in the dialogue."

Eighty percent of physicians responding to a MedPage Today survey published in July indicated that technology has helped to improve communication with their patients. More than two-thirds of the 214 respondents said that they spend at least three hours a day on their computer; one-fourth said they spend the same amount of time on their mobile devices.

What's more, a study published in April in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease found that health technology has helped to empower seniors in their care management efforts.

To learn more:
- here's the provisional study (.pdf)
- here's the related abstract

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