Our South Texas trip was an experience I’ll never forget. I formed strong friendships with my fellow PHAST peers and learned to truly value what it means to work as a team. I also developed a deep appreciation for having relatively easy access to healthcare.
From Tuesday through Thursday, my group interviewed patients at a local community health center that serves the needs of Texans living in the Rio Grande Valley. Our questionnaire assessed variables such as how patients receive healthcare and their perceptions of personal health records and patient portals. The patient portal is a website where patients can access their medical information and interact with their healthcare providers. It’s similar to Kaiser Permanente’s patient portal, My Health Manager, or the University of Michigan’s MyUofMHealth.org.
One of the biggest challenges that many South Texans face is access to healthcare. During the interview process, my team grappled with a great deal of participants missing their survey appointment. When we sent reminder calls to participants, we learned that some had no means of transportation to make it to the clinic. Although care might be available, a communication gap still exists between the patient and this care. PHRs and patient portals aim to bridge this gap.
When we gave participants a demonstration of the clinic’s test patient portal, most were very enthusiastic about its release and anticipated follow-up educational sessions. Although the portal represents a strength of electronic personal health management, there are still some limitations to the portal that I learned about through a discussion with a clinic employee. Contrary to what I had assumed about doctors in South Texas, many cannot speak Spanish. So if a patient used the patient portal to send a message entirely in Spanish to his/her provider, the quality of care might be lost in translation. Because my group worked with English-speaking patients, our data was skewed toward this population, but Dr. Suad Ghaddar and her research team plan to continue this research project with both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking populations. I’m interested to see what key variables of interest come out of this project.
In the end, the experience at the clinic was very rewarding, as I had the opportunity to learn firsthand the healthcare-related struggles the clinic’s patients deal with everyday. One of the biggest hurdles I observed was that of communication. I hope when released, the patient portal will serve its purpose to enhance this communication and interaction between patients and their healthcare.