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Patient portals and health apps: Pitfalls, promises, and what one might learn from the other.

Baldwin JL, Singh H, Sittig DF, Giardina TD. Patient portals and health apps: Pitfalls, promises, and what one might learn from the other. Healthcare (Amsterdam, Netherlands). 2017 Sep 1; 5(3):81-85.

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Widespread use of health information technology (IT) could potentially increase patients'' access to their health information and facilitate future goals of advancing patient-centered care. Despite having increased access to their health data, patients do not always understand this information or its implications, and digital health data can be difficult to navigate when displayed in a small-format, complex interface. In this paper, we discuss two forms of patient-facing health IT tools-patient portals and applications (apps)-and highlight how, despite several limitations of each, combining high-yield features of mobile health (mHealth) apps with portals could increase patient engagement and self-management and be more effective than either of them alone. Patient portal adoption is variable, and due to design and interface limitations and health literacy issues, many people find the portal difficult to use. Conversely, apps have experienced rapid adoption and traditionally have more consumer-friendly features with easy log-in access, real-time tracking, and simplified data display. These features make the applications more intuitive and easy-to-use than patient portals. While apps have their own limitations and might serve different purposes, patient portals could adopt some high-yield features and functions of apps that lead to engagement success with patients. We thus suggest that to improve user experience with future portals, developers could look towards mHealth apps in design, function, and user interface. Adding new features to portals may improve their use and empower patients to track their overall health and disease states. Nevertheless, both these health IT tools should be subjected to rigorous evaluation to ensure they meet their potential in improving patient outcomes.

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