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Targeted Approach Key for Older Adult Patient Portal Adoption

Research shows that regardless of technology comfort level, all older patients would benefit from targeted patient portal adoption interventions.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- Healthcare organizations need patient portal adoption campaigns tailored to older patients to create a more robust portal buy-in, according to research published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. This is necessary regardless of a patient’s reported comfort with or past use of a web-based health technology.

Patient portals have emerged as the crux of patient engagement. By hosting lab results and communication tools, as well as some add-on features such as prescription refill requests or appointment scheduling, patient portals have proven to be critical to meaningful patient activation.

“Consequently, consumer adoption of patient portals is becoming increasingly critical for receipt of quality health care including interactions with health providers outside of clinical visits and quick access to one’s personal health information,” the research team explained.

However, research also shows that older patients and their caregivers are less likely to adopt patient portals than their younger counterparts. Healthcare organizations have identified a need to center their adoption efforts on older patients’ needs, helping to drive patient portal use in this key population.

Through a survey of approximately 100 patients, researchers in the Journal study discovered that organizations must create catered adoption strategies to serve their older patients. The survey covered attitudes regarding patient portals, including health literacy, comfort using a web-based health technology, and past patient portal use.

The survey results showed that although health literacy, comfort, and familiarity with health technology in some cases predicted portal adoption, these factors were not entirely relevant to all patients.

For example, some patients reported past patient portal adoption and use, but still viewed the tool with ambivalence. Others had low health literacy and had never used a health technology before, but became excited at the opportunities offered via the patient portal.

Ultimately, the researchers categorized patient respondents into the following five groups:

  • Don’t want to feel pushed into anything
  • Will adopt patient portals only if required
  • Somebody needs to help them adopt and use the portal
  • See general convenience of the patient portal for checking lab results and medical history, but would overall prefer human interaction
  • Appreciates current features and excited about new developments

The varying comfort and excitement levels regarding patient portal adoption highlight healthcare organizations’ need to cater portal adoption to older populations.

“This research demonstrates that older adults require an initial introduction that highlights contextually relevant benefits and addresses their particular needs and concerns,” the researchers explained.

“Both high and low health literacy groups felt that specific task-based training was an important, yet lacking, resource that would help build confidence and understanding of when, why, and how to navigate the features included in patient portals.”

Healthcare organizations should take a similar approach when introducing the patient portal to informal or family caregivers.

Patients also expressed that they still prefer in-person interactions with clinicians over patient portal messaging. Patients also reported having concerns about adequately interpreting their health information via the patient portal, and knowing how to approach correcting inaccurate information.

Healthcare organizations should shift patient portal workflows for older adults and their caregivers. These workflow changes can include prompting patients to call the office to mitigate data concerns, the researchers said. Healthcare organizations should also implement in-person portal demonstrations during care encounters to foster more comfort when using the tool.

“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,” the researchers pointed out.

However, these patients will require special attention and direction when adopting the patient portal.

“Health care organizations should consider tailored strategies to meet the needs of older adults (and their informal caregivers) and explore alternative workflows that integrate patient portal information into phone conversations and face-to-face contact with health care providers,” the research team concluded.

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