Jeff Rowe, Editor, Future Care

Jeff Rowe is the editor of Future Care and a veteran healthcare journalist and blogger who has reported extensively on initiatives to improve the healthcare system at the local, regional and national level.

With education, older patients will adopt patient portals

April 12, 2017 AT 7:40 PM

Despite mixed reviews thus far, patient portals remain one of the more promising ways to engage patients, but providers must take the time to educate those populations who stand to benefit the most from the new interface.

For example, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, older patients in particular are interested in using portals, but for a variety of reasons they tend to need more help getting used to them. “Healthcare organizations should consider tailored strategies to meet the needs of older adults (and their informal caregivers),” researchers at the  University of Pittsburgh and Ohio State University concluded, while also exploring “alternative workflows that integrate patient portal information into phone conversations and face-to-face contact with healthcare providers.”

For the study, researchers used a phone survey of 100 community dwelling adults to gather sociodemographic, health and technology related information, with older adults purposefully selected for four follow-up focus groups based on survey responses to health literacy and previous patient portal use.

The researchers noted that most patient portals are introduced via email or a postcard provided during a clinical visit, but while that approach may work for tech-savvy younger patients, older adults require more deliberate outreach to explain the benefits of patient portals and tailored task-based training.

Interestingly, the survey determined that “only a minority of older adults believe that the security risks or trouble learning something new is not worth it; most of the older adults are interested in using a patient portal regardless of health literacy level, previous patient portal adoption, or experience navigating health information on the Web.”

Among the strategies recommended for healthcare organizations were creating a patient portal “adoption campaign tailored to the needs of older adult so that the benefits are communicated in a contextually relevant way,” offering task-specific training so older patients feel they have the support they need to confidently use the functionality, and exploring “alternative workflows that give patients access to personnel with the skills to review and respond to questions over the phone about personal health information within the portal,” as well as to change, up-date or validate missing or inaccurate information, and address more serious issues when appropriate.