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Study: Patient Portals Could Widen Health Disparities

April 29, 2015
by Gabriel Perna
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Northwestern Medicine
Patient portals could widen health disparities by race, education, and health literacy, according to the findings of a recent study. 
The study, from researchers at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, looked at the usage of patient portals between white and African American patients. The researchers found that white patients were 2.5 times more likely to be registered as portal users than African American patients. For those who were not health literate, the gap was worse at 3.5 times less likely to register to use a portal. 
"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," Michael Wolf, Ph.D. corresponding study author and a professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement.
The researchers, which published their findings in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association and presented them at the Annual Society of Behavioural Medicine Conference in San Antonio, compared cohort data from a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded study to routinely collected patient-level data at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. They concluded that underserved populations may need greater support in using online patient portals for patient care. Giving the underserved instructions on how to sign up and use simple functions would be a good start, the researchers say. 
A recent survey from HIMSS Analytics revealed that just using portals may not be enough to engage patients anyway and many leaders are looking beyond that. 


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