Not fantastical entryways to alternate universes, patient portals are a new way to connect with patients on an individual basis. A communication gateway for providers and patients, an encrypted and secure log in allows patients to make appointments, pay bills, ask questions about their health and access medical records on a confidential website.
As electronic medical records become more common, patient portals are the next logical step. Yet to be determined is how effective they are for all populations. Current trends show less than five percent of people with access to patient portals use them.
Investigating this lack of use, researchers at City University of New York (CUNY)-Hunter College tested the utility and functionality of portal websites for vulnerable consumers on focus groups aged 21 to 63 who had no more than a high school education. All had prior experience with computers and most had experience using the internet.
They discovered complex language and intricate visual layouts inhibited the use of sites but that most participants felt positively about the convenience portals offer.
The study, published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research concluded, “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.”
As patient portal use increases and their functionality improves, so does the opportunity for increased communication as well as engaging in basic health literacy with patients.
Not only can simple portal sites be effective in reaching individual patients, they are also wonderful opportunities to reach and educate the underprivileged and under educated as well as communicate with non-native speaking populations in their native tongue.