HealthDay News — Many hospital patient portals fail to educate patients fully and set expectations for secure messaging, according to a study recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Joy L. Lee, PhD, from the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, and colleagues reviewed the information made available to patients about patient portal use and assessed ease in accessing such information from hospital websites. The survey included data from a random sample of 200 acute-care hospitals, 50 from each of 4 US Census regions, selected from the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Hospital Compare dataset.

The researchers found that 89% of hospitals had a patient portal, with two-thirds of these having secure messaging functionality. The majority of portals with secure messaging (65 portals; 58%) did not describe appropriate patient messaging conduct. While many hospitals included disclaimers that the service is not for emergencies, 23 hospitals only included this information within the fine prints of their terms and conditions section. Patient-directed materials focused on logistical content, features of the portals, and parameters of use, with logistical content (e.g., creating an account) being the most thorough.

“To improve patient engagement and minimize harm, hospitals and clinicians need to provide more information and set clearer guidelines for patients,” the authors write.

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