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Interest In An Online Pediatric Patient Portal System Based On Parents' Primary Language

Sunday, October 21, 2012
Room 270 (Morial Convention Center)
Chelsea J. Slade, BS, School of Medicine, George Washington University, Washington, DC and Gonzalo Paz-Soldan, MD, Arlington Pediatric Center, Arlington, VA

Purpose:   The creation of an “online patient portal” has been heralded as a means of helping patients manage their own health care.  However, studies1,2,3 have illustrated the existence of a “digital divide” with respect to various ethnic groups’ likeliness to use such a portal system.  Fewer studies have sought to assess the existence of such a divide among parents of a low-income pediatric population, such as ours.  Approximately 60-65% of our pediatric clinic’s population is made up of families who speak Spanish as their first language.  This study was designed to investigate parents’ interest in an online patient portal system, based on their primary language.

Methods: Parents were approached in the waiting room and were offered participation in a voluntary anonymous survey about their Internet use.  The survey was provided in Spanish or English, based on the participant’s preference.  A total of 98 surveys were performed, 74 in Spanish and 24 in English.  Data was compiled and analyzed using Excel.

Results: English-speakers were more likely to have Internet and email at home (88%) than were Spanish-speakers (51%).  English-speakers are more likely to use the Internet (96%) and email (96%) at least weekly than are Spanish-speakers (52% and 64%, respectively).  When asked whether they would be interested in using an online portal to schedule appointments, request refills, or request an immunization record or medical history for their child, approximately 50% of all parents replied affirmatively for each use.  Of note, English-speakers expressed a higher interest in using such a system to request an immunization record or medical history for their child (71% and 68%) versus Spanish-speakers (51% and 46%).  A phone call was the preferred method of contact for most participants.  Of note, 30% of English-speakers would prefer to be contacted by email, versus only 8% of Spanish-speakers.

Conclusion: The results suggest that an online patient portal would be utilized more by English-speakers than by Spanish-speakers.  However, a total of 60% of the families we serve would be able to access the portal from home, including 50% of Spanish-speaking families.  It will be important to assess parents’ comfort in using such a system in English or whether the system should also be available in Spanish.  The further spread of the Internet into homes, and specialized training sessions for Spanish-speaking patients, may help increase parents’ use of such a system.  However, these ideas are speculative.  For now, our data indicates that an online patient portal system would be much more utilized by the smaller English-speaking portion of our patient population than by the larger proportion of Spanish-speaking parents.

1.  Hambidge SJ, et al.  Pediatrics 128(4):e939-e946.

2.  Ancker JS, et al.  J Gen Intern Med 26(10):1117-23.

3.  Hsu J, et al.  J Am Med Inform Assoc 12:164-171.