Online patient portals aid underserved, undereducated populations

Patient portals have the potential for great utility and value for underserved patients with lower education levels--as long as the technology meets certain criteria--a new study from researchers at City University of New York (CUNY)-Hunter College finds, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Setting out to test the utility and functionality of portals and assess their use for vulnerable consumers, the study used four focus groups with 28 low education level, English-speaking participants in New York City, aged 21-63. None had more than a high school education, but all had experience with computers and almost all had used the Internet.

Major themes of the study included: enhanced consumer engagement/patient empowerment, extending the doctor's visit/enhancing communication with health care providers, literacy and health literacy factors, improved prevention and health maintenance and privacy and security concerns.

Participants felt most positive about convenience increasing features, such as for making appointments and refilling prescriptions. Complex language and visual layouts were thought of as poor usability features.

"Most consumers were enthusiastic about patient portals and perceived that they had great utility and value. Study findings suggest that for patient portals to be effective for all consumers, portals must be designed to be easy to read, visually engaging and have user-friendly navigation," the study concluded

A July study in JMIR found that online patient portals are not quite ready to improve medication adherence. Researchers found that patients are enthusiastic about using online portals to manage their medications, but more features and functionality are necessary to maximize medication management and adherence. Also in July, it was reported that patients who use the Internet more frequently are more likely to embrace patient-centered healthcare efforts and participate in their own care, according to another JMIR study.

To learn more:
- read the study in JMIR

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