Patient portals lack user-friendly guidance, study finds

Many patient portals fail to provide thorough, easy-to-follow instructions for using the technology, preventing the portals from achieving their full potential to improve care, according to a new report from Regenstrief Institute and Indiana University School of Medicine.

An analysis of 200 U.S. hospitals found that nearly 90 percent offer patient portals. Of the two-thirds of those portals that include secure messaging systems, more than half lack specific instructions about how those systems can and should be used.

According to the study, the majority of portal instructions focused on operational and legal information, rather than descriptions of instances best suited to portal use. Furthermore, many of the instructions that did relate to secure messaging were vague and unhelpful, such as "send and receive messages from staff," without describing the appropriate content of those messages.

"This research indicates there is room for improvement when it comes to educating patients on the portals, especially related to secure messaging. The guidance that exists includes a lot of 'don'ts,' but not very many 'dos.' This makes it difficult for patients to properly utilize and benefit from the service," said lead author Joy Lee, PhD, a Regenstrief research scientist.

Dr. Lee added, "Hospitals and healthcare systems have invested a lot of money in patient portals, but the investment won't pay off for them or the people they provide care for if patients are confused about how to use the portals or don't understand how to get the most out of the tool."

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