By Eric Wicklund
Online patient portals may offer huge benefits for hospitalized patients seeking to access healthcare resources, but they won’t work unless patients know how to use them.
New research conducted at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and published in JAMA Network Open finds that patients who are trained by their healthcare providers in person will have a better grasp on how to use digital tools than those who use videos for their education. This means that healthcare organizations should emphasize and invest in hands-on training if they want to see the full benefits from patient portals.
“Inpatient portals empower patients by giving them access to clinical data such as test results, information about their care plan and a way to communicate with doctors and nurses,” Ann Scheck McAlearney, distinguished professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Team Science, Analytics, and Systems Thinking in Health Services and Implementation Science Research (CATALYST) and associate dean for Health Services Research at Ohio State College of Medicine and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said in a press release. “Portal use supports a patient-centered care model where patients are more engaged and knowledgeable about their health care and feel valued as patients.”
The study conducted by OSU researchers compared in-person training with video tutorials on both patients with a full understanding of digital health and those with limited knowledge. Testing took place between December 2016 and August 2019 at six hospitals in the health system and involved more than 2,800 patients.
For those with a full understanding of how to use the technology, the study focused on 10 functions including the ability to order food on demand, tutorials, patient education resources, care schedules, messaging with care providers and the outpatient portal. Those with a limited understanding of the technology were tested on three functions: the ability to order food on demand, tutorials and patient education resources.
According to the study, in-person training “was found to significantly increase inpatient portal use” and “had significantly higher odds of being comprehensive portal users” than those using video tutorials. Those receiving hands-on training also had higher odds of being satisfied with their experiences in the online portal in a survey conducted six months later.
“We found that patients who received personalized training accessed the portal more often and were more likely to be classified as comprehensive users than patients who only watched training videos,” McAlearney said in the press release. “Similarly, patients who had access to all functions in the inpatient portal used the devices more than patients with limited function access.”
Health system officials said they’ll use the results of this study to improve strategies for gathering health data through patient portals, including the upcoming Better Birth Outcomes Through Technology, Education and Reporting project, which aims to improve maternal and infant outcomes and health equity by collecting data on social determinants of health.
Eric Wicklund is the Innovation and Technology Editor for HealthLeaders.