Online portal adoption lower than expected in study of older patients

Researchers have called the effectiveness of web-based interventions in healthcare into question on the heels of a study showing limited use of such features by patients, according to a study published this month in the Journal of Health Communication.

The study consisted of 130 women considered to be at average risk for colorectal cancer (CRC). The women, mostly between 50 and 59 years old, were given access to a web portal with information pertaining to screening for the disease, including associated benefits and risks. The site also contained hot links to websites with additional CRC information such as the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Journal of the American Medical Association's Patient Page, among others.

Of the women who participated in the study, 83 percent indicated that they spent, on average, one hour per day on the Internet.

While the study's authors expected use of the portal to be high, only 32 patients (24.6 percent) actually logged onto the site, with a majority of those (26) only logging on once. For some reason, however, 6 percent of individuals who did not use the site claimed they did during follow-up interviews. Comparatively, of 171 women who were given access to identical print materials, 42 percent indicated they had looked at the literature at least one time, with 30 percent stating they perused the material at least twice.

"Easy access to the highly interactive, multimedia driven web has created a perception that if we build inviting websites, the public will come," the study's authors wrote. "Although it is clear that the Internet is a mainstream communication channel, we have much to learn about how it is actually used and by whom. ... Our findings and others raise questions about the potential effect of web-based interventions to improve health behavior when targeted at healthy or at-risk individuals."

They added that rather than continuing to throw money at the creation of technology-based interventions, funding instead should be reallocated at programs geared toward understanding the best ways the Internet can be used to provide more tangible and immediate results.

To learn more:
- read the full study