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Do Online Patient Education Tools Improve Senior Healthcare?

Research shows that online patient education tools, along with adequate user input, will help boost patient engagement.

By Sara Heath

Online patient education tools are important platforms to help enhance senior health and patient education, shows a new study published in JMIR Human Factors.

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According to the research team, led by Anthony J. Levinson, MSc, MD, FRCPC, many of the internet’s patient education resources rely on singular sources, rather than aggregated information to provider a better picture of the state of healthcare.

The team sought to create an online resource hub, the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (not to be confused with a traditional EHR-tethered patient portal), which would provide quality, outcomes-driven information to help senior patients maintain good health into their older age through education.

“Our vision for the Portal was to create a comprehensive, continuously updated, evidence-based health information website on optimal aging,” the research team explained. “We defined optimal aging as the maintenance of good health, physical activity, and engagement in life and the management of health conditions.”

The researchers introduced the portal to 37 patients, and assessed patient interaction on patient-facing elements: evidence summaries, web resource ratings, and blog posts. Through extensive interviews with the patients, the team found that the McMaster Portal was indeed effective in providing evidence-based, quality information to its users.

The team also determined the areas in which the tool excelled and where it needed improvements, as suggested by the test users.

The tool’s positive attributes included information credibility, applicability, browsing function, design, and accessibility. The pitfalls included user reluctance to register for the McMaster Portal, the process of registering, researching, terminology and user healthcare literacy, and the tool’s technical features.

Foremost, this study highlighted the feasibility in this kind of tool for the education of certain patient populations, which is an integral part of boosting patient engagement and helping patients maintain their own wellness outside of the doctor’s office.

It also underscores the importance of developing these kinds of technologies with user input, which will subsequently lead to higher patient satisfaction and patient engagement. When the patient finds the tool easy to use and enjoys the information they glean from it, they are more likely to use it more frequently and reap the benefits of the tool.

The researchers also noted the importance of this technology for the older population on which the McMaster Portal was tested. An increasing number of older patients are avid technology users, and as such, educational resources need to be geared toward that preference.

“Older adults are an important target audience as the population ages and increasingly adopts new technology,” Levinson and colleagues stated. “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.”

With regard to senior use of health technology, other research supports Levinson’s claims.

At the start of this year, athenaResearch announced data that indicated that an increasing number of older patients are using patient portals, despite preconceived notions that seniors are averse to technology.

According to David Clain, athenaResearch’s manager, this is because the older populations are increasingly comprised of individuals who fully adopted technology in recent years, whether it be as a part of their careers or to simply stay in touch with their children and other family members.

“If you look at patients in their 60s and up to 65, a lot of those patients are still in the workforce. They’ve had iPhones for 10 years since they were in their mid-50s,” Clain explained. “So I think that a lot of those patients are comfortable with using technology, and a patient portal may be a new approach to working with their physicians in a way that they didn’t do before, but they’re comfortable getting online, they’re comfortable using their phones to get on a portal, or using a computer.”

As Levinson and Clain both indicated, health IT developers are going to need to keep this information in mind as they continue to create new technology. Bearing in mind older patients’ technology preferences will ensure patient satisfaction, and thus increase the likelihood that they will regularly use these tools to better their own health.

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