PatientEngagementHIT

Patient Care Access News

Can Online Articles Improve Patient Education, Engagement?

Research suggests that patients enjoy reading about healthcare in online blogs, and that it may help boost their patient education and engagement.

By Sara Heath

Informational blogs and research summaries can be useful in improving patient engagement and patient education, shows a recent study.

patient-education-patient-engagement

The study, led by researcher Anthony J. Levinson, MD, centered on the blog posts included in the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal. This portal, not to be confused with a more traditional patient portal, was developed at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and aims to provide older patients with the tools to help them age healthier and with higher quality of life.

Levinson and his team set out to determine how informational blog posts and published research summaries could improve care for aging patients who are not medical professionals.

Through qualitative interviews with 22 patients aged 50 and older, the research team determined four feedback themes: desirability and relevance to individual health, understandability, usability, and usefulness.

Overwhelmingly, study participants chose to read a specific article due to its pertinence to the individual’s own health concerns. Patients with heart conditions were more likely to read articles about heart conditions, for example.

When discussing their experiences with researchers, participants often related their reading material back to their own health, saying that it confirmed something they’d experienced or that it had raised concerns.

Patients also chose certain articles if the topics had an overall societal effect or if they had recently been featured in the news.

With regard to usability, participants had more difficulty with research summaries, stating that these had been written “by professionals, for professionals.” Some participants struggled with the terminology, but responded well to in-text definitions and the glossary included at the end of each summary.

The blog posts fostered better usability because they included comprehensive conclusions and included a “Bottom Line” explanation. Because the blogs were put in plain terms, patients were more quickly able to grasp the message.

Participants also reported that they liked the standardized page format for both the blogs and the research summaries. While very few commented on the actual length of the research summaries, they did comment that the standardized page layout made the article easy to read.

Patients, as a result, found these articles very useful. Because they could easily absorb the information, it was easier for them to synthesize it and integrate it into their patient engagement activities. Many patients reported that they had learned something new from the articles, or had reconciled information they had previously learned.

However, eight participants stated that they wanted more practical information, specifically in the blog posts. These patients stated that articles on how to improve health would be beneficial to them.

Overall, these findings prompted the McMaster portal developers to make some changes to the resources. They plan to move the “Bottom Line” explanation to the top of the article to retain reader attention, and move an option to share the article via social media and email at the bottom of the article.

The developers also plan to include background information about the purpose of research summaries on the home screen of the webpage, and will include more related links to research summaries to provide better background for readers.

According to the research team, the portal – which aggregates health resources for aging patients to help facilitate healthy living and quality of life – will be an important care accessory for users. Seniors are a key patient population, after all.

“Older adults are an important target audience as the population ages and increasingly adopts new technology,” Levinson and colleagues stated in a separate study investigating the navigability of the portal.

“Online health information and Internet usability by older adults have become progressively relevant areas of research. Our findings contribute to those bodies of work and can be applied by designers of health-related websites and producers of information resources for older users and informal caregivers.”

Dig Deeper: