Embracing Technology: Revolutionizing Dementia Care Through Patient Portals

In an era where healthcare increasingly intersects with technology, patient portals stand at the forefront of a significant transformation in managing dementia care. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society has shed light on the pivotal role these digital platforms play in fostering an age-friendly health system for persons living with dementia and their care partners.

The Rise of Patient Portals in Dementia Care

Patient portals, secure online platforms that allow patients and their care partners to access health information and communicate with healthcare providers, are becoming indispensable in the landscape of dementia care. The study conducted by Gleason and colleagues underscores the portal’s utility in addressing the critical domains of medications, mentation, mobility, and what matters — collectively known as the 4Ms framework in age-friendly healthcare.

A striking revelation from the study is that a substantial portion of messages sent through these portals by older adults were actually composed by care partners, highlighting the integral role family members and caregivers play in the healthcare dialogue. The automation of care partner identification via natural language processing not only emphasizes the technological strides in healthcare but also marks a step forward in recognizing and validating the care partner’s role in the patient’s health journey.

Key Findings and Implications

The observational study revealed that 60% of messages contained content relevant to the 4Ms, with medications and what matters to the patient being the most frequently discussed topics. This data suggests patient portals are more than mere communication tools; they are lifelines that connect care partners to crucial health information and decision-making processes.

The effectiveness of patient portal messaging in dementia care is not just a matter of convenience but a testament to the evolving dynamics of patient-centered care. The study’s natural language processing model demonstrated an impressive AUC of 0.90 in identifying messages sent by nonpatient authors, indicating high accuracy in distinguishing care partner communications (Gleason et al., 2024).

Let’s simplify these findings with a real-world example to make it more relatable:

Imagine a scenario where Sarah, who is 75 years old and living with dementia, has a routine doctor’s appointment coming up. Instead of navigating the complexities of her patient portal herself, her daughter, Emily, takes on the task. Emily logs into Sarah’s patient portal and sends a message to the doctor, detailing her mother’s recent symptoms and asking for advice. This action is quite common, as the study reveals that many messages in patient portals, which are supposed to come from patients like Sarah, are actually written by care partners like Emily.

Now, here’s where technology comes into play. Using something called natural language processing—a type of artificial intelligence—healthcare systems can automatically detect when a message is likely sent by a care partner rather than the patient themselves. This is significant because it recognizes Emily’s crucial role in managing her mother’s healthcare. It’s not just about acknowledging that family members and caregivers often communicate on behalf of patients; it’s about officially integrating them into the healthcare conversation.

In simpler terms, think of natural language processing as a smart assistant that can tell whether Sarah or Emily is writing. When it understands Emily is the one sending messages about Sarah’s health, the healthcare providers can better appreciate the full picture of Sarah’s support system. This technology respects and values the input of family members like Emily, seeing them as key partners in the patient’s health journey.

So, for anyone caring for an older adult, this means the healthcare system is evolving not just to recognize but to support the vital role you play in your loved one’s health. Your efforts are becoming more visible and acknowledged, making the care process more collaborative and supportive.

Bridging Gaps and Fostering Inclusivity

While patient portals are transforming dementia care by offering a direct line to healthcare providers, several hurdles still stand in the way of their full potential. For instance, not everyone is equally comfortable or familiar with using digital tools. This “digital divide” means that some older adults and their caregivers might find it challenging to navigate these platforms, especially if they’re not tech-savvy. Additionally, some portals aren’t as user-friendly as they could be, making it hard for users to find the information they need or communicate effectively with healthcare providers.

Another significant issue is making sure these digital tools are accessible to everyone, regardless of their physical abilities or tech skills. This includes designing patient portals that are easy to read, navigate, and use for people with varying levels of physical ability and technological literacy.

But it’s not all about overcoming barriers. The real power of patient portals lies in their ability to bring caregivers’ insights and the personal health goals of the patients into the spotlight. Imagine a scenario where a care partner can easily share updates about their loved one’s condition, set reminders for medication, or schedule appointments—all aligned with what the patient values most in their care. This could mean ensuring a patient who loves gardening can maintain mobility to continue enjoying this hobby, or making sure someone who values family time can manage their medications in a way that doesn’t interfere with these moments.

As we tackle these challenges, patient portals stand as a symbol of hope. They promise a future where healthcare is not just about treating symptoms but about crafting a care experience that respects and incorporates the individual needs and preferences of older adults and their caregivers. This vision for a more inclusive, responsive, and personalized healthcare system is not only achievable but essential as we move forward in our journey to support those navigating the complexities of aging and dementia.

Looking Ahead

The conversation around patient portals in dementia care is only beginning. As technology evolves, so too will the ways in which we engage with it to improve health outcomes for older adults. The intersection of healthcare, technology, and caregiver involvement holds the key to unlocking a future where dementia care is not just about managing symptoms but about enhancing the quality of life for patients and their families.

In closing, the journey towards an age-friendly health system is a collaborative endeavor. By leveraging technology like patient portals, we can create a more connected, informed, and compassionate healthcare ecosystem that truly meets the needs of people living with dementia and those who care for them.

References:

Gleason, K. T., Powell, D., DeGennaro, A. P., et al. (2024). Patient portal messages to support an age‐friendly health system for persons with dementia. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Link to article

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Pinterest

Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter

Get timely and relevant industry news, research and articles delivered right to your inbox each month—exclusively for those caring for & engaging with older adults. 

Never miss an upcoming publication—drop your email below and subscribe to our Newsroom.

You might like these articles, too!

Advocacy
Amanda Krisher, LCSW-C

Bridging the Gap: The Bipartisan Effort to Transform Caregiver Training

In a significant move poised to revolutionize the landscape of caregiver education and workforce development, Congress is on the brink of passing legislation that could fundamentally alter how new workers are trained for the long-term care sector. The Bipartisan Workforce Pell Act (H.R. 6585), heralded for its potential to democratize

Read More »

Leave a Comment

Get Articles Like this Delivered to Your Inbox Every Month

Join over 2,000 readers and sign up to never miss an upcoming publication of Engaging with Aging publication.

We respect your privacy and will never rent or sell your information to third-parties.