Researchers: Portals should be more personal, interactive

Patient portals need to provide more personalized, direct communication with providers and interactivity to fully engage patients, according to research published at the Journal of Internet Medical Research.

The researchers found that portals haven't been as widely adopted as hoped, and sought to find contributing factors to that. They conduced 31 patient interviews, two clinician focus groups and reviewed 142 incidents involving portal use, 102 negative and 40 positive.

They noted a "pronounced" difference in expectations, with providers using the portal to educate and motivate patients for preventive screenings and patients seeking to organize their healthcare overall.

They also found that standardized messages are a big turn-off for patients. Higher levels of immediacy and direct communication are necessary to motivate patients, the researchers said.

Patients viewed portals positively for the ability to instantly access medical information, such as obtaining lab results more clearly, gain clear health information, and compare with previous tests. However, they also criticized website functionality and difficulty interpreting lab reports.

Clinicians' concerns included lack of feedback from patients, such as whether messages had been seen or understood, fears of increased workload and inappropriate use of the system, such as using the portal for topics more suited to an in-person discussion.

The study found only 29 percent of portals studied offered opportunities for interactivity beyond reading text. Activities such as quizzes, calculators and risk assessments were external links that took users outside the portal.

They suggested personalized content addressing patients' concerns about treatment and interactive videos on topics such as elective back surgery to facilitate decision-making.

To learn more:
- here's the study