Study says patient portals may widen health disparities

Health literacy plays a key role in patient engagement, and it may contribute to wider health disparities among older adults.

A study from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago analyzed data from Northwestern Medicine's Electronic Data Warehouse on patient portal registration and use to determine disparities among older adults. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

The study indicated found white patients were more likely to register for patient portals than black patients, at 71.7 and 27.7 percent, respectively. Additionally, patients with graduate degrees were more likely to register for portals than patients with no more than a high school education, at 68.4 percent and 29.2 percent, respectively.

In terms of using the patient portal, patients deemed to have "adequate health literacy" were more likely to use the portal to send a message to their physician (92.7 percent) than patients in the marginal health literacy group (86.3 percent) and the limited health literacy group (61.1 percent).

"Patient portals that offer access to electronic medical records could help individuals better manage their health care and personal needs, but people with less access to and comfort with computers are at risk of not receiving these benefits and will eventually be left behind," said Michael Wolf, PhD, MPH, corresponding study author and a professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "It's a big concern as the patients that already are, perhaps, less engaged in their health and experiencing worse health outcomes may be further marginalized."

More articles on patient portals:

KLAS names Epic, athenahealth, Medfusion most effective in driving patient portal adoption
MedData announces updates to client reporting portal
Patient engagement: The responsibility of the patient or the provider? Executives weigh in

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