Journal explores the effectiveness of education through patient portals

An article was published in Jamia Open earlier this year entitled ‘A systematic review of the effectiveness of patient education through patient portals’, with the research team noting “patient portals are becoming a powerful tool for patient education and engagement, and show promise as a means of achieving the quadruple aim of healthcare” – to improve patient outcomes, improve patient experience, reduce costs and improve provider experience at work.

In order to examine the effectiveness of educational resources within patient portals, the review focused on four key questions. Are patients aware of the education resources within the portal; are they utilising the resources; do they find the portal useful; and does use of the content increase patient understanding of their own health conditions and improve their self-management or outcomes? The researchers looked to 52 previous studies exploring information about patient portals and their impact to find answers.

With regards to the first question around patient awareness, the review highlights that each of the 52 studies had “some educational features as a portion of their patient portal and each made attempts to inform their patients about its availability”. 28.8 percent had content-pushing features, which meant that the patient portal automatically linked patients to relevant information based on their medical condition.

Looking at whether patients were making use of the educational resources available through the portal, the researchers found that utilisation generally “remained low” although there was significant variation in patient-reported utilisation, “from as low as 20 percent to 95 percent”. According to the data from patient self-reporting, an average of 47 percent was found across 12 studies; the researchers excluded a number of studies with 100 percent utilisation rates where use of resources was required as part of the project. The review also highlighted a discrepancy between patient desire for educational resources and actual use of them, with patients more likely to say that they wanted the resources than to use them.

30 of the 52 studies included some form of measurement as to patient perception of the educational content’s usefulness, with the researchers noting that the results indicate that patients find education resources in patient portals “to be extremely useful”. The review points to a selection of studies with comparable measurement styles, which show an average of 78 percent rating the content as useful.

Looking at the final question – whether the educational content increases patient understanding of their condition – the researchers noted “a positive effect”. Among the studies, the most common measure of patient outcomes was that of self-management of health, determined through quantitive measures that scored improvement and through qualitative reports from patients. The six studies that uses quantitive measures showed “significant increases” in patient activation, knowledge of the condition, self-management, adoption of desired health behaviours, decision-making, and decreased anxiety. Self-reporting from patients, meanwhile, indicated that they felt that education via the portal increased their knowledge of their health; increased their confidence in taking care of themselves; improved their safety during and after hospitalisation; improved their ability to communicate with healthcare providers; and decreased anxiety around treatment and prognosis.

Concluding their review, the research team suggest that continued efforts should be made to raise awareness around patient educational resources in patient portals, as the resources have demonstrated the ability to help patients to improve knowledge, skills and confidence around their own health and care.

Citation: Adam M Johnson, Andrew S Brimhall, Erica T Johnson, Jennifer Hodgson, Katharine Didericksen, Joseph Pye, G J Corey Harmon, Kerry B Sewell, A systematic review of the effectiveness of patient education through patient portals, JAMIA Open, Volume 6, Issue 1, April 2023, ooac085,